Thursday, December 28, 2006

Happy New Year?

Well, it's now creeping up on 2007 and the issue that seems likely to matter most again this year is Iraq, so I couldn't resist offering my version of the "way forward" that Bush and his clueless cronies are seeking. I've tried to avoid naïve finger-pointing and cheap shots, though some of that is inevitable, given the unbelievable scope of the stupidity and arrogance the American administration has displayed. The disastrous consequences of their epic miscalculation are obvious to all by now, it seems, so I'd like to get beyond that and offer a broader critique of the mindset behind the assumption that we can "win" anything in Iraq or achieve any goal whatsoever by exporting our political ideas (forcibly or otherwise). So I've tried to put aside my personal outrage at Bush's moral blindness and obnoxious folly, and to articulate my (perhaps very Canadian) scepticism about what I see as a larger American view (and not exclusively the property of Bush/Halliburton/Cheney).

The Way Forward

Maybe we can get beyond this mess
by blaming the worst of our problems on
unlucky generosity,
an incompetent twit, a dire enemy,
or a slight historical maladjustment
resulting in crossed purposes
at the core of our culture. But maybe it all
boils down to something more elementary:
you can't force other people to share
a smugness which they neither admire
nor understand. The real way forward
would be to admit there is no such thing,
only a less horrendous sameness,
a kind of passionate coexistence
under duress and in disgrace.
That's why we should not come through this time
as best we can—instead we should learn
the full extent of our self-delusion
and not pride ourselves so much on the laws
and lessons we have written down;
we should try to live as if we'd forgotten
the secrets that made us wealthy and crass.
Which may include someday burning this...

I guess from my perspective if "progress" can be said to happen it occurs unconsciously, almost subliminally. Any explicit order or forcible suggestion is usually counterproductive, especially when crossing cultural or ethnic lines, because people resent being told they're not doing things the right way. That view may be a bit self-serving, since it opens up a space for art to operate as well: things like poems usually just assume a norm without making it into some sort of law or commandment. This poem violates that rule, though, and that's why I suggest it might be worth burning some (better) day, just to show how fully its ideas have been followed and transcended.


Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...

"The Way Forward" is one of my favorites of yours. Here is the line that I keep returning to:

you can't force other people to share
a smugness which they neither admire
nor understand.

Oh, and this one's pretty good too:

we should try to live as if we'd forgotten
the secrets that made us wealthy and crass.

Do these register as pearls of wisdom? Perhaps that is why you backed off of them at the end, not wanting to sound too smug for fear that you fall into the same trap as those you accuse of the same.

I understand that sentiment. I'm just not sure that
I would understand it in the last line in the way that you explain afterwards. Burning something seems to me it is done out of anger, not understanding or transcendence.

I like the notion of transcending one's smugness. I'm just not sure that burning paper has the right symbolic weight. To me, burial might be a closer fit.

There's also something to be said for letting it violate that poetic law of saying something demonstratively with force instead of the suggestiveness that is usually poetry's main fare.

What would happen if you stopped after crass? Would that be too much of a statement for petry to bear?

9:17 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

Well, maybe I should have a different last line, but I do need something there, to rhyme with "crass". So I'd need another 4-beat line of iambs/anapests.

It's the formalist in me, or maybe the part that spent my adolescence listening to pop music.

5:09 PM  

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