Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I confess it, although it should have been apparent -- I have been known to read poetry. So I'm looking at Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times. He's such a hard left Lefty that he should be inside-out.

"America is in hard times these days, ... the levers of power firmly in the hands of a cadre of Christian pirates and bullies whose cynicism is stunning, especially their perversion of the gospel of the Lord to blast the poor and the meek and subvert the tax system in favor of the rich, while public institutions are put into perpetual fiscal crisis, meanwhile ... the hairy hand of the censor reaches out -- what mustn't be lost [is] the spirit that has kept the American porch light lit through dark ages of history...." This, in the introduction to a book of good poems. Seems gratuitous. Maybe he thinks only lesbians and traitors like poetry? He goes on to prove how poetry will save us.

He wrote it in or before 2005. He must have been blind for a time, all the blood veins in his eyeballs having burst with rage. Now that the Messiah has come, he will have been healed. The hard-pressed public institutions he references must be, uh, the National Academy for Public Depictions of Sodomy, and, um, Americans United to Transcend the Fascism of American Borders. Ah well. No matter. He is without power, save that to amuse, and to help get dilettante quasi-poets elected to the White House. But isn't it interesting, what he thinks of America? It's a place with a porch light. Indeed, it is. For Americans. Porch lights say, "Come home." Home.

The bright spirit that emanates out from America to enlighten the rest of the world is not an invitation to come and bunk with us forever, maybe stretch out on the couch for a generation or two, until the kids anchor-baby you into citizenship. It is an example, not an invitation. The Statue of Liberty bears a torch, not as a harbor beacon or bus station light, but as a sort of stage lighting -- This is how it's done.

The leftwing mindset embodied in Keillor's well-constructed prose is revealed like a floodlight bright landing field. If there is oppression where you are, well, come here -- the porch light is on. Come home. That however is not the American spirit. The old joke is, go where the food is. The reality is that we really should grow our own food, as it were. Flee from problems that cannot be solved. Face and overcome those that can be.

The bullying spirit, per Keillor, evinced by some previous America might be reinterpreted as the spirit of heroism. Are you hardpressed? I will slay the ogre. Do you face intolerable injustice? We will not tolerate it either. This is not bullying. Reality being what it is, we don't rescue every nation suffering under monsters. Those we do rescue have only one cause for complaint -- they were not strong enough to save themselves. Now, however, free again or for the first time, they should gather their strength, at home, and build something worth living in. You know, something with a porch light.

I was moved deeply by the correctness of Keillor's insight into what poetry is. He gets it, and can communicate what it is. What this means, in the present context, is that getting it, and communicating it, is just not sufficient. Somewhere action has to be approved of, and not only the action of self-sacrifice or emotional or material generosity. Sometimes there needs to be a boot on the neck. I don't suppose that would make good poetry, in any real sense of the meaning of goodness. But life is not about poetry. Is not about being right. It's about doing right. That can be a bloody business. It isn't a perversion of the gospel of the Lord to see the need for blood on your hands. Jesus comes with a sword, and no good poem misses the fact that symbols are always less powerful than their underlying reality.


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