Can the Lyric be Political?

I want to point to an exchange of comments between myself and Robert Bernard Hass at my personal weblog, Sharp Sand. The original post dealt with Elizabeth Alexander's poem "Praise Song for the Day," which she read at President Obama's inauguration. The post, but particularly the comments, bear on issues central to the Plumbline School.


Henry Gould said...

I actually had a positive reaction to the inaugural poem. Both style & delivery took me by surprise - unexpected. Sort of illustrated another kind of "less is more".

I thought she was emphasizing the separation between poetry & (political) rhetoric (& thus poetry & power), through her emphatically subdued, almost introverted manner. She was taking advantage of an unwillingness or inability to match the soaring platitudes of the other people on the podium. & then again, the banal simplicity, the "everyman" quality of the verse itself, was a way of marking a separation on the other side - from the brahminical literary sophistication of the academy from which she came. She was addressing the "Common Man", as the dated phrase has it.

So she marked out this "special" place for poetry on this occasion. But the question of (modern) poetry's relation to political power seems like a very big discussion... more than I can handle here.

My one thought on that, though - I wonder if there IS a single defined relation between poetry (modern, postmodern or otherwise) and power. Isn't it possible that this relation is created by individual poets - that we can't easily abstract a "representative" stance? It varies up & down the scale, from defiance to toadyism....

Joseph Duemer said...

That's an interesting take on the Alexander poem, Henry. I think the language was slack, though. Plain style might work, but it would have to be a very tight plain style. With a backbeat, if you know what I mean. The backbeat of self-awareness as language.

I think the poem must be the plumb line in relation to the political, free to find its own position in relation to the rigid structures of power.