On Friday’s Morning Edition, National Public Radio celebrated poetry – especially the left-wing, anti-war, anti-American "empire" kind. Poets were constructing a Japanese "renga" – a "kind of poetic relay race." Anchor Renee Montagne handed off the summarizing to poet Carol Muske-Dukes:
So the poets were in conversation with each other. In a line that Michael Ryan, for example, making a riff on the joke: How many poets does it take to change a light bulb? And it ends with how many poets does it take to change a country? How many presidents? How much pain?
The wonderful poet Brenda Hillman picks up on that with: And the light bulb turns earth, Berkeley lovers in a Thai cafe: mint, sweet basil, Geminid showers all this week, solstice, almost. You can take money out of the empire but you can't take the empire -- look, enough of these wars. A rabbit crouches in the Moon.
Empire? Well, Brenda Hillman is not just a poet, but a member of the Code Pink Working Group of protesters in San Francisco.
An Army lieutenant colonel, Edward Ledford, is also recruited to contribute, but his work is dark, beginning with how a dictionary survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon:
Pathogens injected Trojan-horse-style; temple walls crumble before a small lexicon, altered and stable, unsullied, too briefly a miracle. Our neo-tragedy was their crazy carte blanche. You'd think they'd have read their Homer. But like slapping the moron beside the bully, we invade Babylon to applause, which muted, a-hem, throats cleared for political posterity. Soldiers are nothing more than pharmakon [scapegoats], charged with the damned's duty, enlisted to oaths that only finally matter when we wish they didn't. The soldier-philosopher turns the gun on himself to salvage some meaning. A smirk and crooked smile. Sure showed 'em, didn't we, Dead-eye?
It isn't long before the listener is back to listening to a poem from Robert Hass about the grass blades in argument after the change from fall to spring:
RENEE MONTAGNE: In the end, there is a forgiveness.
ROBERT HASS: The earth forgives the previous year, every year. On the other hand, the other phrase I picked up is from another poem that is the grasses stating their case for and against the continent's violent requiem. It's so hard to know how to think about American violence. And because we're at war, that violence was, I admit, you know, runs through this poem. It was on every poet's mind. And partly it's been the job of American poets - I mean I think Herman Melville said the job of American artists was "say no in thunder."
So thinking about how, you know, how we walk this Earth with all the great things in its history and all the vile and terrible things in its history, is where we've come to always, in thinking about this country.
At least NPR was keeping it to Hass's more metaphorical poetry in this "renga." He could have read his poem "Bush's War," which goes like this:
Or the raw white of the exposed bones
In the bodies of their men or their children
Are being given the gift of freedom
Which is the virtue of the injured us.
It is hard to say which is worse, the moral
Sloth of it or the intellectual disgrace.