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Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2003 / 11 Adar I, 5763

James Lileks

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We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob | Once upon a time, poets were welcomed at the White House. JFK sought counsel from Robert Frost on the Bay of Pigs invasion, Allen Ginsberg's epic poem on containment changed the course of our Soviet policy, and ee cummings' sonnet "lbj

No more! We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power. Laura Bush canceled a White House poetry event upon learning that some invited guests planned to use the podium to denounce the administration. The disinvited poets have struck back with their most fearsome weapon - a website of antiwar poetry.

Visit and you'll find poetry by the cubic ton. Five thousand poems; one or two ideas. It's poetry in the modern sense - namely, arbitrary line breaks, apocalyptic shrieking, hysterical metaphors, and unmediated shouts from the sweaty id. If poets are indeed the unacknowledged legislators of the world, it's time for term limits.

There's a charming poem about Mother Earth:

"She is gasping for air. She is dying. / She hears the screams, the pain, the sickness, the longing. / She oozes. Black blood.

Purple saliva. / She is covered all over with infectious yellow sores."

Put on your waterproof boots if you're going for a walk, in other words. Then there's this fevered rant:

" . . .the one term worm festering vermin, our words alone can't make you human, our words can only scream for mercy for the unforgiven and the predetermined. the war on poetry has been declared."

First they came for the poets, and I not only said nothing, I gave them directions to Rod McKuen's house. I can't stand that guy's work.

Wrote another poet: "Those who think war is a video game and clutch body bags full of quarters don't mind a killing / Young boys hugged themselves during dim matinees and saw cowboys shoot, ride off on horses, blinked out tryin' to walk 'n' talk like John Wayne "

Did you know that our current generation of soldiers chose their path because they grew up to Saturday matinee westerns? True! As for the "Video Game" metaphor, it's been around since the Gulf War, and it's always used by people who don't play videogames.

Here's a typical example of how the Commander-in-Chief feels about the troops: "Though I fight for the unborn fetus /Their mothers don't mean a thing / I'll send those boys to fight a war / If they die, bada bada bing!"

Yes, that's Bush's reaction to casualties: bada bing. The poet's belief is shared by most of the website's contributors: the devout conviction that Bush is not just wrong, but evil. He's a hellspawned imp bent on spreading death to fatten his wallet; he winks at suffering and exults in destruction. Don't you see his horns and hooves? DON'T YOU?

Let's imagine how these people might have reacted if they'd been invited to the Clinton White House. One could have attacked Clinton's cozy ties with Tyson Chicken:

A billion beasts warble beakless
cries of death
The vorpal blade snickersnacks genocidally
Gut-slimed hands count the coins
No blood for McNuggets

Another might have performed that hipster-stream of consciousness thing that damns by piling up unsupported paranoid nonsense:

"Who killed ron brown, black man down / democracy's impostor / who killed vince foster / warplanes over bosnia raining death from above on people because they don't like baywatch / haiti bleeds while you raise the tax / does the chinaman tell you what song to blow on your sax? No Kyoto treaty, whales like Keiko / will die like the innocent children of Waco"

But we didn't hear much noise from the poets in the 90s. Few poets rose up to protest the war in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, or any of the other myriad places America saw fit to plant its boots. You'd almost think these sophomoric bleats and nihilistic screeds have been prompted not by American action, but action initiated by a particular American - gwb, as ee cummings might have called him.

If the Poets Against the War project proved anything, it's that poetry matters little now. A visit to their website proves it. To paraphrase the words Shelley put in Ozymandias' mouth: look upon their works, and despair.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks