Friday, February 11, 2011

Public Poetry

A gray morning, sitting at the Starbucks in Lakewood, south of Tacoma, waiting for my son to finish his class. A world away Egyptians are celebrating into the dark. Mubarak has resigned. It is a fragile moment. It could herald the birth of a democracy or a new dictatorship. Let us hope the Egyptian people maintain their energy and focus long enough to see it through, long enough to develop the institutions that will preserve their victory.

As is my want, I wonder if poetry has any vital place in the public sphere; if it has any role in such events. Song does, that sometimes step sister of poetry. The Egyptian streets are full of singing. But poetry?

There have been times and places when poetry was on the lips of those who were involved in momentous, public acts, but I do not have a sense of that for this time, this place. Poetry seems relegated to the private, at most a meditation on the public, a reflection on such actions.

(I think of the cryptic, intensely private poems Celan wrote that were inspired by events in Israel)

I do not know the Egyptian literary scene, and my reflections may only reflect my sense of American poetry. The question is open. Is it possible in this time and place to have a legitimate (as opposed to sham, shallow, favor currying) public poetry?