Poetry Dispatch No. 7 | September 17, 2005
THE PEOPLE by Eric Chaet
How ill-informed, yet drowning in information, the people are,
how dependent on mechanisms they don’t comprehend
& on arrangements someone else must maintain–or they’ll disintegrate;
how full of delusions & desires implanted by life-long schooling & advertising,
how periodically aroused to hysterical hatred by demagogues’ propaganda–
demagogues within the government, & others critical of the government;
how poorly nourished & affected by molecules known to be harmful
& by molecules the effects of which no one will know for a while;
how addicted to behaviors that deepen their hypnosis;
how diseased, & panicked, or resigned they are,
like cattle milked to exhaustion, then slaughtered for beef;
how they despise those who concentrate their intellects, sifting for progress;
how unbalanced & unhelpful are the pronouncements
of academics & pundits similar enough to those celebrated for myopic success
to break thru the cult of acclaim, to get to the microphones & cameras;
how unable the people are to define their insecurities,
to admit their lack of knowledge, skills, or ability to visualize & affect the future,
how they fall back into formulaic pleasantries & platitudes,
& the glacially-evolving litany of complaints & blame–
every time they gather warily, & attempt to work together,
to grapple with & transcend their condition.
This is a new poem by Eric. To learn more about this remarkable writer please visit his web page here…
Following Poetry Dispatch No. 8 as a reaction on Poetry Dispatch No. 7 which provoked a number of serious responses, both pro and con, all of them heartfelt, insightful, and much appreciated. Among the many responses I have chosen to print a letter by Hatto Fischer, a writer living in Athens, and Eric’s reply.
if you dispatch poems like this one denying people then I wonder if you understand really the quest of poetry. To put it another way: Goethe as a German poet was not really a poet but a civil servant of the German language. He looked down upon people if they did not speak the sophisticated language he expected as indication of being educated. He was never the poet of the people. Puskin was. His poetry has become a source of inspiration for many future poets because his poems is like an endless well out of which you can take fresh inspirations. Take also Pablo Neruda. When a Communist and pursued by the police 1945-47 where could he hide but amongst the people.
There were examples of parents and their daughter hiding him underneath the roof and who did not reveal anything to the friend of the daughter because they felt he could not be trusted. The daughter did not break up that relationship because of a different affiliation to Neruda but they were cautious and thus practiced political wisdom when hiding someone in the underground. How will anyone hide someone if they despise the common people? I think the poem you send me is just of full denial of people and therefore not all able to gauge the river of silence that people form if suppressed, if not allowed to express themselves. Thus your poet is not to be recognized as a great poet but as part of this suppression and in the denial of common people he shows why the loss of freedom is so much felt in America and elsewhere.
I do not mean to be over critical. You may have other reasons for selecting this poem by that poet after the experiences made in the aftermaths to Hurricane Katrina. Still, let me point out the difference between Homer and Virgil. While the latter was under state contract and therefore only a producer of state mythology, Homer bestow confidence upon the people to be free and to take on changes like the transition from a hunting to an agricultural society. For poetry is taking measure for things to come and such a measure can never be taken if you deny people.
Thanks for passing on the reactions. I wish everybody loved me, but I can stand it that they don’t, as long as they don’t hit me, or steal my wallet, libel me, or insist I drink hemlock.
I’m as common, myself, as anyone who ever thought I was putting on airs. See?–two ears, eyes, arms, legs. Raised among laborers, & worked in factories & warehouses–& took orders from people I didn’t want to take orders from, working in offices. Still must, sometimes. No one wishes that everyone was truly thriving more than I do. It’s very sad when they don’t–dangerous, too–& not necessary. I have so much hope that I can dare to face what’s wrong–I’m not so reduced by lack of hope that I have to hide from knowing.
I wonder if the fellow who talked about Neruda being hidden by the common people has himself been nurtured & protected by the common people as much as I have been–in my many years without a home, accepting kind hospitality of many people of few resources–when I was in no position to provide for myself? Which isn’t to say that I don’t understand these reactions. I understand them. I don’t think that they’re mean-spirited. When I was younger, they would certainly have hurt my ability to deliver my best to whoever is capable of receiving it, tho. Hopefully, not now.
Thanks for the “publishing.”
Poetry Dispatch No. 9 The Dialogue continues…
How typical of the intellectual class of this country. I refer to both the poet and the comments about him that you included. To me it is the same as so-called folk music that is in reality the musings of pain in the ass introspective balladeers. Stuff them all.
One reason “the people” of this country do not have a “voice” is that their day to day concerns keep them busy enough. Either they are well enough off to go after their little pleasures, or they are too damned busy trying to earn rent and grocery money. The fact of the matter is that if you want to know where “the people” are at just listen to the Country Western songs they pick out on the juke box at their favorite bar.
Right now they don’t have much use for anything political and suspect they vote GOP because the GOP has done a better job of bullshitting them than the liberals and Democrats. After all, look at that side of political spectrum. The Greens talk in language even they can’t define and the Democrats, the so-called party of the people, hosts Chablis and Brie celebrations for their artsy fartsy lets all be nice to queers etc. etc. etc. spokespeople. Where, exactly, does that leave the “common” person? Sorry, but I call them as I see them.
thank you for your response. Indeed, the denial of people is in particular a serious challenge especially in the aftermath to Hurricane Katrina. There was much evidence of common and poor people not only abandoned and given up, but they themselves could not really undertake something on their own. They just waited. Passivity as if their fate was sealed. This oath of silence meant they could not perceive solutions as they had not managed to break out of the cycle of poverty. As you know words can say something of personal value to a person, dignify, lift up or else just confirm what everyone else think, namely they are not merely poor but also lazy. Society’s pejoratives aim at hindering if not preventing altogether true emancipation. Adorno called it the education to disenfranchisement. If a poet could inspire then we should remember Homer who gave people the self confidence they needed to uplift themselves. You have to be a free poetic spirit and not like Virgil obliged by contract to write myths for the state.
Thus it does matter on whose side you are on. Definitely people need a language which gives them that human self consciousness (Marx) to lift up their head and look into the eyes of what has ruled over them for too long. There is the wonderful story by slave Douglas who said the slaves were afraid of the unknown and they did not know how to make use of the little freedom they had on Sunday when not obliged to work. But instead of learning to read and write, they got drunk. By not standing up to themselves, they were more afraid of the swamps they would have to cross if they ran away from the plantation. Consequently many preferred the known whip of the master rather than face the fear of the unknown. Invisible prisons. Poets must find the keys and unlock them by taking from people the fear of freedom and responsibility.
Yes, you may pass on my words as I appreciate it if we can discuss poetry and politics in America. I have been discussing similar matters with Sam Hamill who is organizing the poets against the war. In terms of what has happened to the Black people in particular, here the writings by James Boggs are to my mind crucial for understanding what is the modern problem, namely that of ‘excess’. Unfortunately he died some years back now but his wife Grace Boggs still writes brilliantly even at the age of 90. Both of them have been involved for decades now in the Black Movement and this in particular in Detroit where they founded SOSAD – Save our Sons and Daughters from shooting one another.
I mention them since one of my most important references when speaking about the conditions of the Black People whereby the other element of negative language has to be mentioned as well. We had in Germany the philosopher Ernst Bloch who spoke about ‘slave language’ as taught to the poor and especially Black people by the poor people’s preachers. They teach them to speak the slave language in which a curse means praise and vice versa a praise a curse. Slave language helps you mask your own true motives when speaking with someone higher up in the ladder of authority. It means no one is willing to say something true or reveal inner emotions lest the master or person higher up gets furious at such sign of liberty. We have the entire failure of the intelligence reports leading up the war in Iraq, including Powell’s speech in the United Nations where he lied knowingly when claiming facts proving that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when he had not. This entire system of lying comes out of the slave like attitude Powell adopted. As mother Bush said he never thinks of his own family but puts the nation first. That is the kind of loyalty President George W. Bush demands.
You can see the next sacrifice being Rice who is just as loyal as she is silencing her own conscience. The slave language and the denial of people go hand in hand with upholding the hierarchy which is the biggest unresolved problem of philosophy. I am saying poets often do not realize that the political dimension behind the problems they experience is not about protesting against people but to bring together some energy so that people can together stem against that what is pushing them down all the time. Michel Foucault said ‘we need to discover the places of silence before the lyrical protest covers them up’. Indeed, we need to create and give space so that people can express themselves outside the slave language and see themselves with human eyes, critical yes, but also with love. We should not occupy ourselves that space but let them fill it with their own stories, dreams and also inspirations.
Yesterday I was sitting in a café near my office. I noticed that the young girl who has always been friendly to me looked sad. We started to talk about what had happened. She mentioned her friend departed. I spoke to her about the ‘logos of love': not the logic, but the place where love is possible and that may not be find as long as human relationships are not compatible with search for job, military service (here in Greece still compulsory for the boys) and other factors tending to separate people even though they think that they belong together. Such departures are painful if the separation is brought about by forces outside the control of the couple itself. To soothe her pain a bit I wrote for her a poem which you will find attached.
I’m happy for the positive response that inspired you, and that mine was just one of many. I don’t know the ratio of hopeless to hopeful among “the people” — but hope dies hard with me.
I watch a concert on TV or read T.S. Elliot or listen to Verdi or Ellington and I think, Islam wants to obliterate all of this–our flawed but grand tradition of Western civilization. They want to destroy our music, our poetry, our literature, our freedom. And because we are too compassionate or foolish to do what is necessary to save ourselves, they may succeed.
I remember standing at a monastery on a hilltop outside Vienna some years ago, and our guide telling us with tears in his eyes how the Saracens were stopped while charging up this very hill 500 years ago, saving Christianity and Western civilization. Secular Europe, alas, has nothing to fight for now, and is in the process of allowing the Islamists to take over their culture. If we in America don’t make a stand, all we know and cherish will be lost to our children and grandchildren. I believe our PEOPLE will die if necessary to prevent that. I know I will.
That poem reminds me of the newspaper I was reading a minute ago. A wonderfully crafted picture of the Problem. Only Solution I know to the Problem is Art. So on this sun splashed morning here at the other end of the Lake—I’m pulling one of your books off the shelf and taking a drive thru the county.
Incredible writer – possibly, but one who apparently has no hope. T.N.
” We are creatures of the moment; we live from on little space to another; and only one interest at a time fills these”
William Dean Howells – in A Hazard of New Fortunes, 1889
Quoted at the beginning of “The Johnstown Flood” by David G. McCullough
Thanks for Eric Chaet. Not even good poetry can lift me from my current funk over this as-hole president and his people.
Everything Eric says in his poem is true, but it’s only half the story. I could write a poem that said the opposite of everything he wrote and it would be true too.
Just curious--but wasn’t Hatto denying Eric his freedom to speak his mind
if you could pass on this message to Eric:
I am the fellow who refers to Pablo Neruda who I witnessed last in London when he read 1969 in the Round House. He read more poems by Ritsos who was at that time in jail. The Junta ruled in Greece and poets like Ritsos were behind bars. Neruda called him his brother and missed his voice as he gave his to make Ritsos presence be felt back then in London. It was an interesting time for Neruda received the Nobel Prize for Literature 1971. He died two years later, ten days after Allende. Neruda’s own confession that he had lived meant his poetry came out of the river of silence that the people formed and who trusted him as he found protection by them. There is a dialectic between trust and silence, wondering and knowing when to reveal something. Infinite sensitive points for people trust almost blindly the one who will not abuse in his own words their words. That is the relationship of trust. When Pablo Neruda had to hide for two years because the police was after him just because he was a Communist, he learned to respect and to treasure this trust people had in him. I don’t think Neruda ever betrayed their trust.
So it is equally touching if Eric himself has been nurtured by people while he could not exist by himself. Whatever such a life meant then and now, there should be a bond between him and the people who cared for him. If he has hope and dares to hope, then all the better.
So if the word denial is making the round in America, yes, then there should never be that denial of common people. For they are the base of everything else and without such a base nothing can be done.
My remark was not to criticize the poetic inscription of hope and despair but to remind someone has to put him- or herself between the people and poets if they are ready to deny that base. Criticism is not mean nor an intention to squash poetry. I certainly appreciate it that he wrote that poem but then he will also have to come to terms with my response.
I hate to make things difficult for you–people are always blocking simple things I’m trying to do, so I don’t want to do it to you–but:
What I was trying to avoid, & would still like to avoid, is providing ammunition for a foolish interchange in which someone’s sense of importance gets publicly hurt, & the hurt has my name on it–leading to bitterness that doesn’t quit–& toward what useful end? I DON’T want to have a conversation with Mr. Fischer. Wouldn’t this just lead, precisely, to that?
If it’s important enough to you, please let me know that you think differently, & why–okay?
thanks for the clarification about ‘case closed’. That is important to know you wish to keep up the dialogue…
Mr. Fischer says he takes it that I am somehow “denying” the people. Bullshit–I’d be denying myself.
When I can figure out what to articulate that is not otherwise being said, that needs considering–if the situation is to be improved–I articulate it to the best of my ability. And, so far at great personal expense, for decades, I have done what I could to get it into the most effective circulation of which I’m capable, & I keep trying to develop that capacity.
Criticism has always been the main “reward”–some thoughtless & superficial, some striking at my ability to earn a living.
Norb, you know, but others reading this won’t, that I spent some years, in great poverty, stapling posters I’d silk-screened, to utility poles, across the USA–I hitchhiked in all weather to do it, & it is fair to say that a good deal of the time, I was starving. I did it to affect the situation. Whether I am affecting the situation remains to be seen–but I don’t really care to be lectured at. I also taught literature at several colleges & universities, during an earlier period.
I hope that what I’ve created reaches those who are ready for it, both in terms of having developed the capacity to understand it, & not being otherwise mentally committed.
I certainly don’t expect everyone to get & appreciate it–especially not in any short term. But some of what I created & put into circulation 40 years ago–& 30, & 20, & 10–continues to have some affect: I occasionally get evidence of it. In this case, I just shared a new poem with you, Norb, & you chose to post it to those you send email to. Mr. Fischer wants conversation about literature. I know a lot, but far from everything, about literature–I’ve spent more time considering it, than I have considering a lot else that is valuable, & even crucial to my survival, let alone thriving & succeeding.
Therefore, unless something truly important & useful I haven’t thought of before is offered about literature–which Mr. Fischer hasn’t offered, though he mentions a lot of literary ideas & personages–I prefer to think about other matters. I hereby grant him the equivalent privilege. To many people, the ideas he mentions would be stunning, I imagine. It doesn’t always appear so, but I’m trying to get something done, & my time is limited. I am taking the time to write this, only because it seems likely that you, Norb, are about to post Mr. Fischer’s email, & Mr. Fischer has planted innuendoes against me in his email I don’t want left unchallenged. Misunderstanding & confusion are so damned counter-productive, & can be long-lasting.
Mr. Fischer has a quarrel with American Culture, apparently, & wants to pretend that I’m American Culture, & need to defend myself. Let him have a conversation with American Culture. I’m not American Culture. I won’t respond to his insulting it, as though he had insulted me. American culture–& what it’s involved in–is frequently my subject. It is my belief that American culture contains wonderful & terrible elements–& I’m trying to whittle down the terrible, & fortify & develop the wonderful. Though I’m sure Mr. Fischer has many more dimensions than I am aware of, as he says, I can stand not knowing him better. I spent years talking about literature, I don’t aspire to repeat the experience. Of course, he has other dimensions, but that’s the dimension he insists I respond to. I wish him well.
I don’t want to engage in the quarrels you would like to have with me, Mr. Fischer. I don’t need a victory, as you pretend to think I might–nor to allow you to win one over me, either. You look forward to a game–I am trying to avoid games. Though you suggest otherwise, I believe I understand the responsibility involved in the act of publishing my work. I didn’t write you, & I’m not trying to hire a conscience. Mine seems to be functioning a lot stronger & as it should be, than many of my other parts, which show signs of wear. A poem was posted. It said something. You pretend it did something it didn’t do, & ignore what it said, & what it did do. Now you also pretend that I ought to be responding to what you’ve said. Please!
Hear this: Though you wish to score points at my expense, I truly wish you well.
Norb: as for Mr. Fischer objecting to “Case closed”–you said that, Norb, not me. If you want to respond to his quarrel with that, go for it. Norb, you wanted to post my response, & you wanted my permission. You may publish the whole mess, if you like. But I wish that whoever got & appreciated the poem hadn’t been dragged into all this, & could just read the poem. I tried to keep it as brief & clean as possible, without leaving out anything necessary.
Again, Norb, I thank you for thinking of posting the poem. I appreciate it.