Dec 19, 2008, 12:05PM

Poetry and Politics

A interesting back and forth—between, among others, the author, George Packer of The New Yorker and Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic—regarding poetry and Inauguration.

Your thoughts?

There are many good reasons not to have poetry at the Inauguration. Maybe the president doesn't enjoy it. Not many people read it. And the lion-share of poetry is awful. Of course this also true of boxers, blogs, novels and magazines.But because poems are supposed to be the arena of the high-minded, bad poetry manages to come off not just as another category of bad art (like bad TV, or a bad movie) but as haughty, snobbish and elitist. It comes off as the sort of thing endorsed by people who say things like "hip-hop isn't music," or writers who condemn every practitioner of genre post-1874 as "lacking the language, rhythm, emotion and thought that could move large numbers of people in large public settings."

Look, there are many counters here. The most obvious being that someone needs to hit George off with Nas, Jay or Doom. Somehow I think George would still beef with me over whether it was poetry or not. Fair enough. But if this...

I drink Moet with Medusa, give her shotguns in hell
From the spliff that I lift and inhale..

Or this...

So now your rolling with us, like co-defendants
No phony business, should know the difference
From suprems solo, it's the style ancient as Moses scripture
It's latin kings, black kufis and white justice
Amongst us, crime invades the mind of youngsters...

Isn't poetry, but Beowulf (which I love also) is. If this...

You heard holler, broad or dude, we need food
Eat your team for sure, the streets sure seem rude.
For fam like the Partridges, pardon me for the mix-up,
Battle for Atari cartridges, put your kicks up.

...isn't poetry but Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 is, than I need to start driving a cab. Maybe I do need to start driving a cab, but for other reasons. Anyway, by George's own definition--having "language, rhythm, emotion and thought that could move large number of people in large public setting"--hip-hop is the most vibrant form of poetry out there today. Even if it doesn't, as I suspect, move George.


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