Too often poetry which has potential to move many people is ignored because it fits a stereotype—it’s just poetry. They haven’t thought much about what poetry is; they haven’t realized that poetry is radical and potentially revolutionary. Unfortunately, to make people realize this, we poets must indulge in hype, and to have our hype heard, we must achieve notoriety. To achieve notoriety, therefore, I am advocating the appropriate civil, social, legal, and political consequences and correlaries of my poetics.
First, I will become a poetic gadfly to the legal system. Don’t just bring poetry to convicts and inmates but teach them to respond to psychological mind-fuck violent humiliating pressures to conform with passages from Kipling, Whitman, and Wordsworth, a kind of passive civil disobedience. Also waylay court reporters with accounts of legalistic coldbloodedness and claims against the ego- and profit-motives of lawyers. Down with opaque complexity; we want flexible simplicity. Back to natural law, the law of poetic truth. Common sense. Against capital punishment; let us not murder to prevent murder; more respect for life, less paranoia. More respect for the things that make life worth living. Work instead against the causes of crime; treat not the symptoms and punish not the victims. Let police investigations and interrogations be directed toward the discovery of true causes and let the legal and penal systems be directed toward changing the evil situation. If a man steals to support a drug addiction, first compensate the victim, second cure the addiction, and then change the situation that encouraged the addiction be it financial, social, or psychological. Loss of rights necessary to make these changes should constitute the only real punishment. Those who support the conditions of crime must suffer as well as the criminal; nothing is isolated. Combine the penal and social-works systems. The work of lawyers will become a kind of systems analysis to balance rights and opportunities among people of diverse needs.
The role of poetry in this will be to increase awareness of esthetic and structural necessities, to train human beings in the art of being human, to increase linguistic abilities, mental efficiencies, sensual sensitivities, and awareness of moral complexities. Organic form and free verse and avoidance of abstraction and so forth have ethical and political correlaries. Relativity, the universal in the particular, holism; spontaneity, intuition. These reforms are to be advocated to gain notoriety and an audience for poetry; although reforms are worthy for their own sake, poetry should do the real work of changing the psyche of the people.
Having achieved the popularization of these ideas and more ideas like them, become a politician, a poet-politician, advocating not peace but duality, a holistic approach. Be for one side or the other, but for sides. Does America believe in magic? Let us reinstate chanting as a diplomatic art. Let’s litter Iran with Frisbees, cheap reproductions of portraits of Longfellow and Zukofsky, and tons of bubblegum. They think America is one evil; they’re wrong, it’s a million evils. Down with national solidarity. Down with state secrets. Let’s put the C.I.A. to the test of honesty. Let America know why it is hated abroad. Why be paranoid about national security unless we feel we deserve the wrath of other nations. Read love poems to the American people on national TV. Why pretend to be taken seriously unless one is sure that the truth wouldn’t be? Radicalism—back to roots. Advocate direct democracy. Convert all congressmen to clerical workers and educators. Nationalize NBC and the NY Times to be the media of the government, which must exist primarily to educate the voting citizens. Convert all senators to scholars of needed reform. The president and his cabinet should be the cultural host of the nation. This will require a radically different party system. We should sponsor the arts not business. Business can make its own bread. No tariffs; no quotas. No more hiding the consequences of our mistakes. Clean slate. Let the people ban food additives and nuclear power. Back to wind and solar power, back to the power of beauty, of ugliness, of the senses, of the word, of the muscle, and of the people. The power of disagreement. Down with the silent and homogeneous mass. We need emotional involvement. Let all civil servants write haiku and sonnets about their uniquenesses and why they want to serve their country, changing the criterial for advancement from seniority to perceptual intelligence and openness to new ideas. Reinstitute the dramatic monologue as a political tool. Let’s have more social protests in high school. Let’s undermine the mythos of TV and the basis in ignorance on which too much advertising relies.
And if these ideas don’t work, attack the complacency of America by starting a cult. Full-time PR. A recognized religion: laughing/irony/linguistic faith healing. Claim to literally save lives. Write poems pretending I were God, an ironic proposition. Break into the newspaper circuit. Advocate that everyone found their own church.
1 March 1980