A.F. Moritz certainly has high hopes for poetry [“What Man Has Made of Man,” November 2009]. A Juan Ramón Jiménez poem “has greater relevance to public action than any work of political philosophy or political science, any constitution, bill of rights, speech, or policy paper.” One by Wordsworth “exerts an attractive pressure on the reader to transcend what man has made of man, to change it.” Even if we appeal to something suprahuman—Nature, Dasein, the Great Pumpkin—the work of change will be at the mercy of human fallibility. Moritz wants poetry to workshop in the void left by the meltdown of religion and the failure of messianic politics that followed. The latter he implicitly invokes with his platform for “public action,” which isn’t at all eligible for intelligent debate, derived as it is from “if we allow that a bird and a tree are our equals.” Generally, the more esoteric or confused a politics, the more likely it is to be extreme.
Moritz asserts that the Milosz poem, “The Poor Poet,” accuses poetry for failing to “deliver the seeds of a hopeful personal life and beneficent politics.” Moritz is so rock bottom at one point that he predictably sinks his gums into the “flood of films, television programs, popular music, sporting events, advertising, and publicity” to underline his belief that there is no “hopeful personal life” to be reaped these days. Whatever politics Moritz is really up to, he piggybacks on a poet whose misery index, reflecting the experience of true exile, reads much higher than his own.