The Week We Looked Back in Relief

By Harriet Staff

Here at Harriet HQ, we believe that change is possible—nay, inevitable. We believe that change always presents opportunities. We believe that people can overcome pain, mistakes, and misfortune, and that poetry can help. We believe that, insofar as the past is worth examining, it should be examined in service of the future.

Before we close down the summer of 2012 and take an extended Labor Day break, we celebrate change. We also dig through some very old dirty laundry because that stuff is pageview crack.

Bill Lavender gave us a lesson in moving forward.

Decades ago, William S. Burroughs was an enemy of the U.S. state, less for his drug use and gunplay than for his “offensive” work. Now, he’s a celebrated pop-cultural icon and a role model for sly eccentrics across the continent. Unfortunately, in Turkey, the Man can still bust him.

Years ago, Bucky Sinister had a debilitating taste for whiskey. Now, he’s a spokesman for sobriety, a successful poet and standup comic, and a witty and wise San Francisco raconteur.

In the mid ‘90s, Craig Kilborn, the first host of The Daily Show, flew in from the sports world and was promptly suspended for public misogyny. Now, the satirical current-events program influences a generation of progressives and drops literary references on the regular.

Lucile Clifton was probably writing children’s books before you were reading them. Now, her work gets the exhaustive exhibition it deserves.

The scene surrounding poetry readings is an insular one. It draws volatile characters. Things sometimes get heated. Please remember, poets and venue staff: a headbutt thrown in anger is typically recollected in regret. Violence hurts book sales.

We know that Sir John Betjemen was a bit of a player. Now we get to sift through his love letters in all their touching, vulnerable, conflicted glory. If you’re trying to have it both ways, imagine someone going through your private stuff, and ask yourself if it wouldn’t be easier to just make a decision.

Can you ever forgive yourself for all that awful poetry you’ve written? Can you ever just move on? Bad news: Perhaps not.

Don’t feel too bad. Even tastemaker Ira Glass isn’t that crazy about his old stuff.

You can still repent.

Originally Published: August 31st, 2012