Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by D. W. Cunningham
Dear Editor,

Thanks to David Orr for his thoughts on politics and verse (“The Politics of Poetry,” July/August 2008). His title summoned the image of a legislator at the podium fulminating about a free verse bill. (There’s a world for ya.) But no, the piece was about political ideas in poems. This is a topic that properly would be allowed to blossom into a wider consideration of local thoughts in art. Political ideas are just that. In the chaos of the mind, the structure of a politics is not different from the structures of a personal hobby, wardrobe preference, sports enthusiasm, religion, and so on. Writing suffers when writers fail to see this. The question is how ideology might be applied in verse. Its promotion, affirmation, and argument lead to quaintness—which I believe Orr was getting at when he suggested an eventual diminishment because political poetry “exists at the mercy of time, history, and other people.” Most new “political” poems that I’ve seen in the past forty years have been quaint in just this way. One strategy, of course, is to play nearer to metaphilosophy. Compare Marianne Moore’s paean to the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, “Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese”—which is only adorable—and her more fully realized “Tom Fool at Jamaica”—which is sublime.

Rockville, Maryland

Originally Published: October 23, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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