Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Presidential Candidates Well Versed?

Politics and poetry have long been connected to one another. There are vast collections of poetry and songs about political, social, and racial struggle and persecution, the venomous voice against right-wingers/establishment/government and the stinging retort of those tossed into the fire by words that signify more than ink on paper. Political poetry has brought about keen awareness, violent outrage, shock, and - when done well - change.

I used to say that I'm not a political person. I suppose what I should say is that there is a time and place for politics. Hanging onto whatever thread is left of Emily Post in today's society, I've stuck by the adage to avoid talking about politics and religion with specific company. Some say it's the cowards way out. I just think it's a good way to avoid a fight. And I've been in those fights. And it's not always pretty. Some frown at my politics but truthfully what it comes down to is that we all believe in the basic core values. Mostly. Don't we?

This year is especially heated in the United States with a monumental and historical primary season now behind us and the promise of change in front of us, whichever candidate you choose. It's exciting. And I encourage all of you who are eligble to get out there and do your thing come November. But more about that in the coming weeks.

What does any of this have to do with poetry? Glad you asked. In today's Washington Times, there is an article, "Poet advised Young Obama." What does this mean? Did this said poet, who was a black writer, a communist and avid fighter for equal rights for African Americans during a dangerous time in our nations history have a true impact on the vision of Barak? Does he carry some of the same radical ideas that his mentor did? Maybe. Maybe he was just one of many important people that came along Barak's path but does not hold the monopoly on his insight. That being said, does Barak enjoy poetry? I couldn't say.

As for John McCain? Apparently, he comes from the age when schoolkids used to memorize and recite poetry (I used to have to do that, and I'm more than half his age, but whatever.) Based on this Op-Ed from William Krystal back in January, seemingly another attempt to spotlight John's age difference in comparison with "youthful" Barak. Still, it seems as an adult, he may not be as up to speed on all things poetry. He apparently was stumped by a question a few months back when asked who the poet laurreate of Arizona was (the state does not have one) or of the United States (at the time, Charles Simic).

So, in conclusion, should we choose our next president by how familiar or well-versed he is in poetry? Of course not. I guess the point is - what were their influences, what shaped their ideas, and what are those said ideas? What vision do these students of poetry have to move our country forward? The truth is still unfolding.

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