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In Defense of My Desire To Elasticize the Meaning of the Word Political:
I think there is an important distinction to make between Poetry as a political act, and an intentionally Political Poem, written with a clearly drawn purpose.
The call to my edition of OCHO was clearly driven by a political purpose. Many of the poems in it, were not.
I agree. It was the call to, and answer from, poets like yourself that was political. (Dear Prince of Pansies).
If you are going to decide to write a Political Poem, which you date, and in which you name historical events and in which you make clear your purpose which may very well be reactionary, satirical, and which you mean to demand of the reader a recognition of a political engagement, then I think you should be held accountable for that purpose.
If you are going to write about your girlfriend's death, as elegy, or exploration of that loss, you do so without considering the outside world. Precisely the reason Octavio Paz says that love is anti-social. Perhaps this lesbian's poem will live up to your expectation of a Political Poem, perhaps not. Hopefully it will live up to a consideration of itself as an "Elegy".
For that matter, if our poems, which may be driven out of "magic" into the beauty of form, have political resonance, and not a clear political statement, it may be because, though we are politically engaged poets, and though we are writing out of particular identities, we are not choosing to write in response to the burdens of the state, but toward the burdens of loss, say, love, or toward some other ineffability, some other magic. And yes, I think the state and the ineffable are odd magics. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself.
I am large. I am a half-breed. I don't assume one multitude excludes the other. A Political Poem can achieve that "ineffable" quality, though most are criticized for having an overt agenda that fails it. Perhaps Reece's poem is NOT in any way political, but I still argue that Poetry, yea Art itself, IS--because it aspires to, and takes place in, imaginitive freedom. A place that can risk opposition in all manifestations.
Does this mean that politically minded poets who are not writing Political Poems should be asked to avoid considering the nature of their poetry as a political act--by which I mean, an act that cannot be governed by the state, by cultural expectations, politically rigid forces (thereby demanding that they consider their role as a citizen, even if they are not specifically writing about it)?
Does this mean that a poet writing Political Poems cannot speak to the philosophical nature of Poetry and Art at large? Or are you saying that this kind of poet thinks there is only one kind of good poem, the Political Poem? I simply don't agree with this kind of homogeneity.
Perhaps Reece is writing about his parents, and not his dying lover. Should his poem be held to a Political standard, or an Elegaic? Perhaps your final comments illustrate one way that Truth, that Gemini, is another Trickster of the Revolution.
I know that I am a gay, single, immigrant migrant worker 2nd generation American 21st century (did I mention poor? coalminer? Xmilitary, once catholic now atheist?) poet and I still feel the ineffable when I read Shakespeare, Tsvetaeva, Dostoevsky, Joszef, Hardy, Puig, Genet, Doty, Valentine, Bishop, Joyce, Sachtouris, Carson, Donne, Celan, Arenas, Keats, Virgil, Lispector, Lorca, or any number of writers whose work speaks to me, even if none of them are speaking to a Politically Specific Me.
The truth is that we need poets to act as citizens, and we need the wealth of their poems to contradict them: we need Political Poems, and elegies, love poems and murder poems, hate poems and guilt poems, prison poems and sex poems, spiritual poems and godless poems, eco-poems, ekphrastic poems, language poems, etc. and we need them to sometimes be just that. More often than not, we need them to be more than one at once.
The real question that interests me here is why Reece's relatively benign poem is, as you say, "the queer poem the New Yorker chooses to include". Why doesn't the New Yorker favor those queer poems that hold their political intentions with uncompromising and purposeful audacity? Is this evidence of a political cowardice on their part, or is this kind of political engagement something we should expect from them at all?
I don't know that we should expect every poem from a Queer poet in the New Yorker to deliver us an anthem. I do know I would like the New Yorker to print an issue that only prints Queer poets. An issue that only prints Hispanic poets. And I'd especially love an issue for Queer Hispanic poets. And why not? There are enough months in its history for a whole slew of elasticized We's. I love a good parade and I love democratic variety in all its annoying competitive dangerous splendor.
But the poet and the poem are not the same. Form can be described, approach to form can be described. Beauty is ugliness at rest. Or as Wilde put it: "All bad writing springs from genuine feeling."
I think there is room to expect both. More than both. Blooms of both.
yours, with ardor,
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