1 America co-opts dissent. Write against apple pie & Mom and within the month there will likely be a club against apple pie & Mom with meetings, badges and dues. Under repression, poetry is dangerous. Poems and poets matter. They have outright consequences. They are, therefore, intimate, passed hand-to-hand, reread, scrutinized, valued. So it was for a long period in eastern Europe, for example. Since what is called "the fall of Communism," many poets used to repression now feel their art has gone slack.
2 My father immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine. (We called it "The" Ukraine.) From him I learned to fear the Tsar and the Bolsheviks equally.
3 Whoever thinks words lack fixity should pause to contemplate the use of the word "gallows" and the difference between the pencil-and-paper game called "Hangman" and a lynching.
4 The pen in the poem had been a bureaucrat. The alligator had been the current tyrant. These are historical examples.
5 A Yugoslavian poet had been imprisoned for inserting into his poem the phrase "a pig in boots" after having a book cleared by the censor. Everyone knew he meant Tito. And a dead man may have more authority or power than a live man. (The dead man of the dead man poems is alive and dead at the same time.)
6 Grownups know that things end. Grownups also remember.
7 In the spring of 1983, I left a literary banquet in Sarajevo to go to a nearby bar frequented by young poets. The woman assigned to act as my translator introduced me, telling them in Serbo-Croation that I was an American poet. At once one lifted his glass and said in clear English, with great pleasure, "Fuck Reagan." Then he asked her in his own language to inquire as to whether I was a Democrat or a Republican. "Neither," I said, "Independent." When she told him this, he again raised his glass, this time higher, and said, "Ah, Anarchista!" (The dead man is not me but knows a lot about me.)
8 In dead man poems, the line and the sentence are identical. Still, one must be willing to make an exception when it truly proves the rule.
9 Armed revolutions pile up the young corpses and end up zero to zero. Meanwhile, good things are replaced by profitable things. One can vote or move on. We survive the future to be saved by the past.
Copyright © 1996
Electronic Poetry Review