poetry as something else

But being a "political poet" can mean more than one thing.

If transforming the world is the goal (and it ought to be), when can we say that we have succeeded or failed? If we assume poetry as a politics (whether that politics is a violent power struggle, as Kostelanetz assumes, or the investigation of how language shapes our understanding of and participation in the world, as Bernstein believes, or a form of literary Darwinism, as the canon contests) the stakes are pretty high. Few involved in these debates would disagree that the human condition, whatever its condition, has room for improvement. After twenty years of Language poetry, evisceration of social spending, continued increase in military spending, a gradual fall of the standard of living, mounting consumer debt, a frozen minimum wage, the subversion of local laws in deference to world trade, pointless atrocious military actions received uncritically by corporate-owned media - in short, the Reagan administration, which has not yet ended - can we say that it is time to try something new?

If I speak of a "politics of poetry," it is to address the politics of poetic form, not the efficacy of poetic content. Poetry can interrogate how language constitutes, rather than simply reflects, social meaning and values. (My Way, 4)

Activism can be measured by its efficacy. The protests in Seattle last year succeeded: the demonstrators prevented the WTO from meeting, and brought attention to the issues surrounding "free" global trade. Poetry that allows the reader to examine critically, rather than be seduced by, language, may not have ended the Reagan Administration, but perhaps it can help us understand its artifice, and, over time, disbelieve it. I hope so. I have no doubt that language constitutes, rather than reflects, social meanings. As to what extent the polysensical parataxis of new poetry can aid the interrogation of language in the minds of those who consider language transparent, or who already distrust poetry, or who reflexively receive difficult writing as academic posturing - in short, the public - I reserve the right to wonder.

If transforming the world is the goal (and it ought to be).

But being a "political poet" can mean more than one thing.

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