Skip to main content

Viva America!

America is having an early springtime, to paraphrase Reagan, brought on by the extraordinary flowering of its grassroots democracy, as captured by the worldwide media over the last week or so. Despite the bias of many snobs in Europe and beyond, who sniff at American ways of doing things, and fear or loathe the American tendency for optimism, sentiment, and faith in public expression, the Obama-Clinton wave has been a corrective. It's impossible not to be impressed by the genuine force and energy of the people, everyday and humane, concerned and informed, who are the green fuse of these primaries. British papers, often known to mock America, are filled with editorials gushing with Niagra-like praise (the Canadian side of Niagara at that).

One thing is clear: America has, despite all its flaws and foibles, the most active and open democratic system in the world today, and almost any American (short of a convicted criminal) is free to rise to the challenge of running for the Presidency, as in Lincoln's day, but more so. As is often said, a woman, an African-American, a Mormon, all have a good shot.

There is a huge irony in this new British enthusiasm for the American freedom to be, to say, and to express - since it is these energies, precisely, which are actively suppressed, and opposed, in the nativist English critical tradition in contemporary British poetry. That is to say, the English line defended and argued for, by the likes of critic Edna Longley, is precisely not about freedom.

Yet, the great theme of poetry is freedom. Modern poetry, which begins, properly, with two American geniuses, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman, resolves to extend the canonical tradition, working with then beyond, formal structures, opening out into the infamous "telling it slant" or a "barbaric yawp". This slant yawp is modern diction and syntax, and it means that the American side wins the dream poetry match of the last 158 years or so. Or comes close.

At issue, so often, in British poetry circles, is concern with propriety, gentility, decorum, and subtle nuances of "voice". Also emphasised is command of form, and craft. Poetry, exactly, not carried away by itself, or a sense of language or moment carried on a wave of emotion. Irony often holds sway. Or a very gentle lyric self gets expressed, with no apple carts overturned.

Democracy offers more raw, more chafed, delights - the jumble and bustle, zip and hip-hip-hooray of anything-may-happen. This is the poetry of a Plath, an O'Hara. I hesitate to suggest that every society gets the poetry it deserves, but in England, at least, poetry, and society, are united, and both falling. In America, the more open options, the sense that the best poem is still out there, waiting to be written, means that, united, poetry and freedom stand.

Where is the Obama of British poetry? Who currently astounds, moves, inspires, and galvanizes? The British Big Boys of Poetry keep a lid on anything that might actually stir the young, the masses. Too often, what we get is a safe pair of hands.
1 comment

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!