ed. Andrea Brady.
Barque Press, Cambridge, UK.
hundred days into the purloined term of office of George W. Bush, it was
already possible to see what we're all in for, for the next 45 months:
the economic agenda Nixon might have fantasized about but dared not initiate,
an energy policy that exhibits more compassion toward all those previously
endangered carbon dioxide molecules than toward our national alveoli,
and a foreign policy easily summarized in a two-word command often uttered
by Joe Pesci in Scorsese movies.
Compassionate conservatism apparently applies
only to Bush's relations with campaign contributors, since he's plenty
conservative and plenty compassionate to their crying need to dominate,
deceive and destroy. As for leaving no child behind? Bush's contribution
to our education system is a miniscule increase in the federal expenditure
and a new round of darken-the-oval exams for teachers to gear all their
efforts toward. Never mind paragraphing, or learning how to identify bias
on the Fox News channel. Johnny, memorize THIS, so my colleagues and I
can get good marks in the newspapers.
The human reaction, of course, is anger.
And with anger, especially the anger of those victimized by brazen and
unprosecuted theft, numbness often ensues, and corresponding inarticulacy.
If you feel someone pull the watch clean off your arm and see them run
off giggling, you're liable to stand there slackjawed. The first sound
you make is apt to be something like "Wha---?"
Or something like one of the poems in 100
Days, the anthology of poems sent to the Barque Press in response
to an online request for poems summing up Bush's first three and a quarter
months in office. As the book's editor, Andrea Brady, explains on the
backmost page, "over ninety artists replied to a web broadcast invitation"
issued 70 days into Bush II's illegal tenure.
These replies range all over the electoral
map in terms of style, strategy and rhetorical effectiveness. And it must
be said that there's a fair amount of creative writing workshopese, poetry
written solely to show off one's syntactical and linguistic prowess, or
one's ability to rattle off T.S. Eliot quotations. It's material like
this snippet from an Alice Notley poem that probably caused Bush voters
to swear off poetry in the first place:
You will die of your minor hearts,
your monotoned thought, your purses of shadows, die worshipping god and
weaving death blankets for all but your own children, own friends, own
offices. I am the office. I cast you out, erasing your lacklove, you,
The poet is addressing the Bush constituency--surely symbolized here by
a Madame LeFarge-like lot, eh? The turnabout of the last lines in the
excerpt is cute; the disenfranchised poet does to the not-so Grand way-too-old
Party what it did to the poet and to the world.
Meanwhile, in a smug, unhelpful essay entitled
"The First One Hundred Days of Sodom: Fucking, Sucking, and Sodomizing
in the Bush Interregnum," Anonymous luxuriates in the license for bluntness
that's always his/her birthright. Anonymous explains the famously disturbing
electoral map, the one that shows the Gore counties in blue, the Bush
ones in red. On that map, the northeastern and western beaches are minty
blue, and several jagged blue rivers run through vast expanses of blister
red Bush country. According to Anonymous, "people tend to be smarter the
nearer they are to water: the Atlantic, the Pacific, and even the Great
Lakes seem to have an intellectualizing--although geographically limited--effect."
The question must be asked. What does such
writing accomplish for the left, or for readers in general? Does'nt this
kind of writing give the right exactly what it wants? Aren't we saying
exactly what they want us to say and--worse--in precisely the terms they'd
prefer us to use?
The right loves a smug, elitist leftist
almost as much as it loves a cut in funds for social programs or environmental
policy enforcement. A leftist who wants to DO something in the world can
only read such poetry and wince. It's like watching the team you root
for do obnoxious dances in the end zone when you're down by 28 points.
Luckily, the book also contains work that
makes you wonder if it's possible to read the Bush non-phenomenon with
more exactitude. Rod Smith, author of In Memory of My Theories
among other titles, seems to have accounted for the Dubya species with
a simple analogy to the Mary Tyler Moore show cast, but with one
crucial tweak: "Now imagine if Ted were Lou, if Ted were the boss. You
know how incredibly fucking brainless Ted is, but let's imagine he understands
& is willing to use force. That's the situation we're now in as Americans."
I for one will remember Smith's theory
for at least another 43 months, but I won't remember much else from this