You saw it on the Best American Poetry blog first! Poet Timothy Liu suggests that Robinson Jeffers’ poem “Shine, Perishing Republic” should be read at President Obama’s inauguration. Hard to picture citizens who won’t vote for a candidate until he or she wears a flag lapel pin standing for a poem that starts by confessing that America has been settling “in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,” but maybe the metaphor “the fruit rots to make earth” opens a line of thinking that might begin to repair the damages caused by naive belief in the efficiency and omniscience of the market. Certainly it would help to remind ourselves that “corruption / Never has been compulsory.”
Here is a link to the poem.
That’s not the only good idea received so far in response to an inquiry undertaken for this blog. Asked what book of poems he would send Obama, Jason Stenar Clark replied, “I’d send him this book of poetry I don’t really remember the title of, which I bought for five dollars, written by a homeless man in San Francisco. The work was not particularly good, but neither was it terrible. It was a copy of his verse xeroxed with too much toner at the local library and every poem was filled with resignation and resentment against all the people who passed by him, thinking he remembered nothing. But he did. I’d give Obama the poems mostly because I think, unlike any president since, well, Lincoln, he is already a pretty literate and curious fellow (he actually complained about not having the luxury of browsing through his neighborhood used bookstore in Hyde Park anymore), and he needs to be reminded of those over whom he has authority but from whom he will hear no complaint, no retribution should he wound their fates. Everyone else in America, from soccer mom to Rolex executive, has some blabbermouth to sway the President. That author in San Francisco had a voice Obama is unlikely to hear. It’s not that I think the man is unsympathetic to the poor. Not at all. In fact, probably more than I am, since I tossed the book a long time ago (shelf-space, you see).”
But lest we mislead you into believing this will be a tiresome week on the blog, devoted wholly to matters of grave concern to the republic, I should note that the funniest poem Moira Egan, an American poet lately of Italy, has read recently is John Ashbery’s “Thoughts of a Young Girl.”
To which poem here is a link.
You, O Reader Discerning Enough to Attend to This Blog Out of the Numberless Blogs on the Web, are the subject of the aforementioned inquiry, no less than have been the Discerning Ones just cited. Please help. Here are the questions to which we want answers:
1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
6. William or Dorothy? Robert or Elizabeth Barrett? Moore or Bishop? Dunbar or Cullen? “Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully” or “No ideas but in things”? Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Tender Buttons?
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
8. Even for poetry books, the contract has a provision for movie rights. What poetry book should they make into a movie? Who should direct it, and why? Who should star in it?
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
11. If the official organ of the AWP were not the Chronicle but were the Enquirer, what would some of the headlines be?
12. If you were making a scandal rag for poetry in the grocery store checkout stands, what fictitious poetry love triangle would you make up to outsell that tired Hollywood story of Angelina and Brad and Jen?
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
14. We read poems in journals and books, we hear them in readings and on audio files. Sometimes we get them in unusual ways: on buses or in subway cars. How would you like to encounter your next poem?
15. What poem would you like to hear the main character bust out singing in a Bollywood film? What would be the name of the movie? What would be the scene in which it was sung?
16. Do you have a (clean) joke involving poetry you’d like to share?
17. Tell the truth: is it a poetry book you keep in the john, or some other genre (john-re)?
18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)?
19. If you got to choose the next U.S. Poet Laureate, who (excluding of course the obvious candidates, you and me) would it be? Of former U.S. Poet Laureates, who did such a great job that he/she should get a second term? Next election cycle, what poet should run for President? Why her or him?
20. Insert your own question here.
I’ve asked various persons — Knowing Ones, all — to respond to as many of these questions as they care to, and I hope you’ll enjoy their replies.