Categories
lit politics

My heart wanted to stab things but didn't have arms

(The title is from a poet named Tao Lin in a col­lec­tion called this emo­tion was a lit­tle e‑book).The Inter­net is like a small town, espe­cial­ly when there's some­thing to dis­agree about. Recent­ly, some of my favorite Inter­net cit­i­zens got into it over Obama's deci­sion to have poet­ry at his inauguration.I've always liked George Pack­er, the New Yorker's man on the ground in the ear­ly days of Iraq. I devoured his book about the first year of the occu­pa­tion, The Assas­sins' Gate. It tells the sto­ries of a few Iraqis who put their necks on the line to sup­port us when we arrived in 2003, and it comes to mind when­ev­er a con­ver­sa­tion turns to the need to find a way out of Iraq. I also read his blog, Inter­est­ing Times. He's the kind of jour­nal­ist who always does his home­work, which made it all the more puz­zling when he some­what flip­pant­ly crit­i­cized Barack Obama's deci­sion to ask Eliz­a­beth Alexan­der to read a poem at his inau­gu­ra­tion:

For many decades Amer­i­can poet­ry has been a pri­vate activ­i­ty, writ­ten by few peo­ple and read by few peo­ple, lack­ing the lan­guage, rhythm, emo­tion, and thought that could move large num­bers of peo­ple in large pub­lic set­tings … [Ed.: Ouch.] … Obama's Inau­gu­ra­tion needs no height­en­ing. It'll be its own his­to­ry, its own poet­ry.

Ouch. A blan­ket dis­missal? The activ­i­ty of "a few peo­ple?" I start­ed writ­ing a response to this, but Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic beat me to it. His blog rules. He called out Pack­er for being pre­ma­ture­ly judg­men­tal, and sug­gest­ed that per­haps hip-hop lyrics were suit­ably rhyth­mic and emo­tive for the occa­sion. Yes.Lo and behold, Pack­er just post­ed what amounts to an apol­o­gy, and he does so in the best way, com­par­ing the cur­rent poet­ry scene to the NBA in the 1970s:

Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can poet­ry has too many man­sions to be summed up under a throw­away phrase like "pri­vate activity.†Its mul­ti­tude of schools and forms is like the N.B.A. in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, when there was no dom­i­nant team but a con­fused con­test of war­ring tribes. And I should have read more of Alexander's work than appears on her Web site, and more care­ful­ly, before express­ing skep­ti­cism that she'll be equal to the occa­sion on Jan­u­ary 20th.

So, the real ques­tion is: Who will be the David Stern of 21st cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can poet­ry? Chris Fis­chbach, I'm look­ing at you.