Organizers of the Dodge, named the Saturday night ending ceremonies "Imagining a future: an evening of readings, reflection and music." The self-important craving of poets to sound like poets drives me crazy. They seek to envelop us in a bubble of effervescent bullshit the poetry must eventually struggle to live up to. In truth, poetry hardly conforms to themes. When it does it ceases being poetry and becomes propaganda.
Yet these hardworking master of craft gave it their best shot, conforming to rules set down about keeping their choices short and reading two poems -- one of which was not their own. Time for such created characters is always a challenge since they lacked the bureaucratic talents required in such events as these. These poets would do much worse on Sunday when confronting time constraints without theme or poem number limitations.
At no place did my vast ignorance of the poetry's range so reveal itself than during the Saturday evening festivities. Poets -- confronted with the single most important event in the poetic world -- strutted their stuff across this brief coil, brandishing their years of study as if clashing sabers. They did not just display their talents as poets, but also as translator and lovers of translations. I was adrift in a sea of names I could not pronounce, spell or attribute a nationality. In such cases I cling to a personal philosophy of poetry, I stick to the text.
Listening rather than reading the verse, I allowed the music to flow over my, my mind grasping at images the way a drowning sailor might drift wood in a particularly busy surf. As with listening to Pinsky's 9/11 poem the next day, it was impossible to squeeze meaning out of the recited language -- a curse to our culture that has traded away that capacity in exchange for sound bites and superficial repetition. Virgil ruined us for Homer, providing us with an easy excuse to not pay proper attention by shaping poems to the page rather than the person.
In selecting their theme, organizers of the Dodge allowed poets the platform for a much more political presentation. Although lacking Baraka's talent for propaganda, they eased into the subject, selecting materials that painted a picture of the culture our national leaders seemed bent on destroying. With the war in Iraq so inevitable, these poets struggled to show the people and their feelings, not the video game-like images the military constructed for us. Some poets boldly issued antic war statements, but with the exception of Baraka, they did so outside the boundaries of their poems, asides that shaped the backdrop against which their poetry would play.
There was passion in their pleas for reason, and pain in their realizing that they preached to crowds already converted to their cause -- a crowd whose attention would soon become diverted by allegedly anti-Jewish lines in one of Baraka's poems. This division of the left has always been its curse, and has always been exploited by a government which did not wish to have these voices or their opinions heard. Rather than having national newspapers printing lines from poems depicting the great wonders of the Middle East, the world would get six erroneous lines from Baraka's poem, hardly a fair representation of the Dodge's explosive word-power, or the great respect and love of human lives and cultural dignity these poets had for the people soon to become victims of our government's bombs.