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Monday, 21 January 2013


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Says someone who has clearly never been on Facebook. The endless stream of youtube music videos is almost unbearable.

And how many singers are performing at inauguration events? How many endorsed candidates? How many sound off on political and social issues and get attention for it?


And just to head you off, no, I absolutely do not think that poetry that's sung is any different from poetry that's spoken.

"This morning like most Americans I'm watching the Inaugural."

Not to seem jaded and cynical but I question your "most" claim. As it's a federal, banking, and market holiday (MLK Jr's Day) perhaps more than most. But "many" is as far as I'd claim.

Inaugural speeches tend to be pure kabuki. I watched Obama's first inauguration for its historical value. But today I found other matters more pressing.

"no, I absolutely do not think that poetry that's sung is any different from poetry that's spoken."

Well, unless you count the fact that lyrics don't have to mean anything and poetry is all about meaning. But aside from that.


If you are into the fall of the Republic, may I recommend Michael Parenti's excellent, "The Assasination of Julius Caesar", and HBO's Rome, which although it takes artistic liberties, breathes life in to some very colorful historical characters.

Rome really didn't die though, even though the republic became more "emperor" centric, until Constantinople fell in 1453. This is of course a point of protracted debate. For the true death of Rome, and all it represented, I recommend Roger Crowleys, "1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West."

Well, the end of the Roman Republic, or at least it's "reformation" under Octavian / Augustus resulted in probably the best in Roman poetry (Virgil, Ovid, Horace etc). Maybe the US needs something similar?

I'm working, I don't watch TV, and I don't see what's newsworthy about a second inauguration. But then, I failed to find anything remotely compelling about the football player with the dead, fake girlfriend, and that was all over the news.

Mike, might I humbly suggest "Roman Revolution" by Ronald Syme? It's the standard of early Imperial Roman history. Just read the introduction, where Syme claims that becoming an empire was probably best for the Roman people. Then note that he signed it September, 1939...

There was an interesting poetic kerfuffle about the 1993 inaugural poem memorialized here:


You'll never guess which one i like better.

And after twenty years of on-and-off debate over public sphere and public-supported poetry spawned by the modern inaugural poems, I agree that public poems tend not to be the most interesting, partly because poets are often not very slick about their public-sphere product. Frost, for example, took advice on toning down ambiguities in his inaugural poem. And Baraka's method of losing his poet laureate of NJ job was, well, breathtaking.

The book of interest, The Country Between Us, is a remarkable book and it's author a remarkable person. It was one of the first serious and political poetry books to be recognized by the mainstream press in a very long time. "The Colonel" is a particularly powerful and accessible poem.

I had the pleasure of taking a week long workshop with Ms. Forche soon after the book was published. She stressed that poets needed to be more political. People were listening to her. It was an exciting time to be following poetry.

It was also during the infancy of CNN and the 24 hour news cycle, of USA Today and Entertainment Tonight. The erosion of our attention span was picking up speed.

In the former Soviet Union poets could pack stadiums like rock stars. Poetry in this country has always be seen as unapproachable and elitist. Tell someone you write poetry and they look at you like you go home and do calculus in your spare time.

Tell someone you are a photographer and they invite you to their wedding.

Rubicon, a very good read. Holland has a great sense of how to write popular non-fiction.

If you like this sort of thing I highly recommend "The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians" by Peter Heather.

[T]he official poetry of occasions has never been that medium's highest height.

I know you're right. Robert Frost and Maya Angelou's "inaugural" poems are not their best. Which is probably true of Richard Blanco. Poetry's muse appear to the poet unbidden and in private, on "cat's feet" as it were. Not by command. My favorite depiction of a poet at work is a scene from Doctor Zhivago: where the protagonist (Omar Shariff), struck by inspiration, furiously scribbles a poem with a quill pen, in the study of the dacha, in the depths of winter.

The movie's most memorable line to me was Dr. Zhivago's brother Yevrev's (Alec Guinness) narration:

"If people loves poetry. They love poets. And nobody loves poetry like a Russian."

My hunch is that there is less hunger for poetry in Russia now, than there was in Tsarist and Boris Pasternak's (Soviet) times. Poetry is probably the least cynical or seditious form of social criticism, even if it is the most profound. There were shades of this in Blanco's inaugural poem. Pasternak's in Doctor Zhivago (the book) certainly were.

Otoh, my favorite American poems in high school were Carl Sandburg's Chicago, in addition to his Fog and Robert Frost's New England poems.

Mike,I recommend In the Shadow of the Sword.
Another Tom Holland book and one quite pertinent to happenings around the world at this time.

57 Presidential Inaugurals!

That would make you at least 225 years old.

And you don't look a day over 200. `/;~>

I remember Ike.

Young Moose

[It's been just short of 224 years since the first one in April 1789. We consider ourselves 237 years old, though, since we date our nationhood from the Declaration of Independence. But we didn't have a President then. --Mike]

It's great to see Carolyn Forché's wonderful book on this site, one of my favorite poets. I also love her first book, in the Yale Younger Poets series, truly young in the best sense, vigorous, gritty and moving. Like the president's brief, pointed, (I felt) inspiring speech today.

Or in private life. Poems can create the mood, get the message out, celebrate, lament...you name it...much more quickly and to the point than other forms of expression. We'd all do well to sample a little poetry. But yeah, Blanco seemed to be making a speech or writing a hymn. I liked it anyway. Poetry doesn't have many rules, and good or bad, it's usually over quickly.

Apparently there seems to be no room for poetry here, too... It's amazing how an entry on a new camera gets hundreds of comments and then, when the topic turns to poetry, there are zero comments (at 00:31 GMT).
A sign of the times, Mike.

[Well, no, a sign that I'm a little behind on comment moderation. I feel like I do it all day, every day, but in fact I'm not at work on it every minute. --Mike]

"This time it's Richard Blanco, whose poem is sounding a bit like a speech—but then, the official poetry of occasions has never been that medium's highest height."

Poetry has been pretty pedestrian since the vampires that acted as the poet's muse were all taken care of in 1877.

At least that is what it says in Tim Powers' _The Stress of Her Regard_ (Keats, Shelly, Byron) and his new one _Hide Me Among the Graves_ (Swinburne and the Rosetti's) 8^)

Tim Powers writes great supernatural history, weaving real life facts with supernatural explanations.


This podcast goes from the beginnings of Rome to the fall of the Western Empire in around 190 episodes. Each an enjoyable 20-30 minute tidbit.

A lot of great stuff here.

If memory serves me right Mike, your own Walt Whitman had his work, Leaves of Grass (which I too enjoy) gifted by a past cigar using ex president of the US to a certain Whitehouse intern.

Not enough snow yet but hoping for more. Temps to 28 below zero and winds of 35-55 going a couple day ago. Winter has finally arrived in our area of North Dakota. Time for some nice landscape and location work.

Mike, I remember that book of poetry from 20 + years ago. I discovered that I still had the book on my bookshelf. One of my favorite poets, political poetry, I believe? Central America at a time when our CIA was trying to "prevent" a Cuban style revolution, and supporting the ruling class. It didn't work very well, and there was a lot of bloodshed. She documented some of the tragedy with her poetry. I sort of lost touch with her and her work and would love to see what she has done recently. This was a good post and good suggestion.

What did you think of Rubicon? I'm just finishing up the works of Tacitus and need something to keep the toga party alive.

[I liked it a lot, but I'm new to Roman history and wet behind the ears. --Mike]

I finished reading that same book last year. Couldn't help feeling a slight shiver, even if the author does mention that things are the same these days.

In any case, history doesn't really repeat itself. Does it?

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