Poetry News

Craig Santos Perez Weighs in on Dead Poetry, Rhetoric of Empire

By Harriet Staff


Craig Santos Perez has put to paper his own thoughts on Richard Blanco as inaugural poet for the Kenyon Review blog, while keeping in mind the reasoning behind choosing Blanco as the eventual man for the job: "Why banish poets from the empire if empire can use poets towards its own ends?" This relates to this week's conversation about poetry being dead, poetry undead, etc. More from Perez:

. . . Use poets to wash over the empire’s crimes, use poets to feign respect for humanity, use poets to poeticize the ideology of empire. Blanco’s poem, “One Today”, is a poem of American exceptionalism and immigrant exceptionalism—of “one empire” built by many settlers on native lands. There it is, Mr. President, sitting there, for USE.

I confess that it was difficult for me to listen to “One Today”. How can you write about “fruit stands … begging our praise” without writing about NAFTA? How can you write about being rooted to “every stalk of corn” without talking about GMOs? How can you write about “routing pipes” without writing about the Keystone XL pipeline? How can you talk about “cutting sugarcane” without talking about the role of sugar and global trade in the war of 1898 between US and Spain, enlarging the US empire overseas? How can you muse about the “work of our hands” without talking about the unemployment rate? How will we head “home, always under one sky, our sky” when so many homes have been foreclosed, and so many futures, dispossessed?

The public attention that Obama has brought to poetry has led some to declare that poetry is dead. I think they are right. Poetry is dead because many Americans have sold their souls for the dream of capitalism, militarism, and colonialism—what Whitman called the “deformed democracy” of America. Unlike some of Blanco’s other poems, his “One Today” is a perfect poem to present to zombie Americans because it is a dead poem.

For many of us whose native homelands are occupied by America, poetry is one of the few things that keeps us alive. Poetry is our defense against tyranny. It should not be the poet’s role to lip sync the rhetoric of empire. The poet’s role is to challenge and question. The poets role is to inspire others towards dismantling empire so that a truly humane form of life can emerge.

Originally Published: January 25th, 2013