It was the eve of the annual elections. The Poet Laureate was tired. He returned from a whirlwind reading tour–Cleveland, Jonesboro, various pubs in Missoula, both Portlands– to his Baltimore garret to wait.
There was no telling, despite the many many polls put out by The Paris Review, which way opinion would swing. Would Watching the Spring Festival nab the Bollingen with the weight of Oprah behind it–
Would Lighthead win the Pulitzer–had such a natural candidate emerged in decades–but could one discount the strong faction of Vermont farmers who would try to swing it in favor of The Sum of Every Lost Ship–
What would happen with the National Book Award: the anger at town hall meetings at Heavenly Questions being left off the ballot was thick. Could the book possibly prevail as a write-in candidate–
…Through that long November night, the national consciousness prickled with lines of poetry. Over the radio the midnight DJs whispered their favorite lines Comet of stillness princess of what is over and Mr. Merwin fell asleep.
I had a crazy schedule that Tuesday, Election Day, and my polling place had been, inconveniently, relocated two towns over due to the flood. But on my way to work I passed the stump of the old beech tree that used to stand beside the gas station and then those lines went through my head before the garden is extinct and the woods are figures guttering on the screen and I turned the car around. It was hard to park with so many readers milling about carrying their signs. Someone handed me a beautiful broadside of a Samuel Menashe poem, it was beautiful, but no, this election was not about the lyric voice as so many would have it, but about time. Merwin’s stump readings often concluded with Time unseen time our continuing fiction and I wanted to see poets recognized whose work manipulated time and made it, at least my narrow conception of it, obsolete.
The papers on November 3rd were mostly dedicated to reporting on the elections. But I flipped to the Politics/Leisure/Gadgets section. I needed a diversion. There was an interview with President Obama on page 5. He was on his usual tirade about the economy.
“Look I’m a lover of the arts as much as the next guy. I think Mr. Merwin is doing a heckuva job. Those lines he has, I have waked and slipped from the calendars/ from the creeds of difference and the contradictions/ that were my life and all the crumbling fabrications, those are great lines. I think Robert Penn Warren belongs on a postage stamp and we’re making that happen, in small increments. But people can’t sleep in a poem. People can’t eat verse. We need to jumpstart this economy. We need to remind people that consumerism is a way to dream too.”
December. Mr. Merwin went about forming his second-term Poet Laureate Cabinet. Among the positions he hoped to fill:
- Secretary of Ecologically Sustainable Unfree Enterprise
- Secretary of Rarefied and Inspiring Single-Cell Organisms
- Secretary of Organized Nonviolence
- Secretary of the Rivers
- Secretary of the Trees
- Commissariat of the Palms
- Secretary of Intuiting Dark Energies
February 2011. Open letter posted on the Poets Against Peace blog:
Dear Mr. Merwin, Our esteem for your work, and for how you have lived your life, and for your work as Poet Laureate, is unbounded. It’s not your fault, but ever since Citizens Who Are Actually Citizens United was passed, taking the money out of politics and changing the national pastime from shopping to aesthetics, we have become a nation more perfect and more enlightened. We are losing our edge. We have less to say than the unfortunate artists and writers from Switzerland. We look on jealously at so much ferment in France. They are raising the retirement age, taking away national health care, dipping their crusty breads into used car oil. It is no way to live, and we are going to move there and join them in not living well. Apocalypsis gratia artis.