Sunday, January 20, 2019

Politics and Poetry

Without care, this Blog could become the Mary Oliver Fan Club site! But in honor of this marvelous writer, and while it’s fresh, at least two more of some 50 poems I’d love to share.

If you know her work, you’re aware that she probably writes less about people and the human world than any other poet, living or dead. So when she does slip in a poem about politics, for example, you stand up and pay attention. It’s not that she doesn’t care. More that she made the choice of placing the center of her life elsewhere, into the reliable world of Nature’s bounty, even with its storms and death and expected and unexpected terrors.  Consider this poem from her book Red Bird:

Not This, Not That

Nor anything,
Not the eastern wind whose other name
    Is rain,
Nor the burning heats of the dunes
   At the crown of summer,
Nor the ticks, that new, ferocious populace,

Nor the President who loves blood,
Nor the governmental agencies that love money,

Will alter

My love for you, my friends and my beloved,
Or for you, oh ghosts of Emerson and Whitman

Or for you, oh blue sky of a summer morning,
That makes me roll in a barrel of gratitude
   Down hills,

Of for you, oldest of friends; hope;
Or for you, newest of friends: faith;

Or for you, silliest and dearest of surprises, my
Own life.

On the opposite page is another, yet more political poem, published in 2008 (before Obama’s election), that doesn’t console at the end with love, hope and faith and describes so perfectly part of who we have been as a country and never more disastrously than today.

Of the Empire

We will be known as a culture that feared death
And adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

How we need poets to tell the truth!

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