In "A Lesson for Today," first shared by Robert Frost in 1941, was his reflection on the purpose of writing poetry. Frost explained it as his personal "lover's quarrel with the world." Poetry as an artistic medium offers brevity of wit, and those skilled in this art form are able to express deep emotion in a few lines - a shot of refined, aged whiskey which soothes the soul of the masses. Which leads me to wonder where are the skilled poets of our generation - where are the ones holding up a mirror to culture and expressing universal truths?
I may not be able to discern where they are, but I can certainly tell you where they are not - Harvard University. In case you missed it, and you probably did, Harvard poets have been celebrating all that is Barack Obama. The project is called Renga for Obama: "We are embarking on a literary project of historic proportions, one that expresses the profound sense of gratitude we have for a modern political leader who is measured, thoughtful, humane, and literary-minded." This literary exercise is slated to last 200 days. It began the day after Obama left the White House (January 21st) and is being updated in the Harvard Review Online with a daily submission from two poets.
So what is a renga, exactly? Harvard explains it like this: Poets, working in pairs, will compose a tan-renga (short renga) of two stanzas: first, a traditional haiku of three lines of 5-7-5 syllables, followed by a couplet, called a waki, of two lines of seven syllables each (7-7), which is intended as a response to the haiku.
According to the MRC News Busters, this project is the brainchild of Major Jackson and is meant to be strictly a celebration of the Obama presidency: Poets were instructed to restrain themselves from attacking/"resisting" Trump. ”Art should not be in the service of any political view,” Jackson said. “Art takes in the full range of human experience and puts it through the lens and hopefully we see an aspect fresh and new.”
This explains why the literary effort falls short of "historic proportions" and will be simply an insignificant footnote alongside all the other participation trophies given to the 44th president. Another pat on the back for a job poorly done. All of the poems are in the service to promoting political homage to Barack Obama and his ideology. Avoiding criticism of Donald Trump does not make the lyrical words interesting. It's droning on about how the collective we need to appreciate the brilliance of a young statesman and force a legacy marred by corruption and elitist indifference to real-world problems coupled with the inability to offer concrete solutions in service to the betterment of mankind (whoops - humankind).
How I wished Obama had just once raised his middle finger to the actual evils that plaque our times and not perceived ones demonized to force an agenda. Most Americans felt that middle finger in their face with every damaging policy that affected the ability to live a decent life and raise children in a controversy-free environment.
Americans have been screamed at for almost a decade. We are the scourge of the world. However the spirit inside us has not been broken. Deep in the belly, freedom fires burn which explains the jump to polar opposites hoping to finally get it right, all the while secretly wondering if as a nation we've gone too far down that rabbit hole. Where is the poet who can express this?