CAN THERE BE POETRY IN THE WORLD TODAY?
I've recovered from my 'memory trunk' this essay that I wrote long time ago, when I was a student in Granada. I wrote it as homework for my teacher of American Literature, Dr Cardenal, one of the best teachers I've ever had, who introduced me to the great American poets, like Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, among others. Here is a contemporary version of my essay, in homage to Dr Cardenal, my respected and admired teacher:
Hello, friends! It’s late in the evening and I’m alone in the house, well not exactly, I mean my wife is asleep and so are my children, as they have to get up early for school, and I’m alone in the sitting room watching TV, the last news bulletin: another bombing in Syria, thirty civilians dead, no forty, fifty-five, seventy...I turn off the TV, but I still hear the screams. Oh God! can’t anybody do something? Those children buried under the rubble, they need air, can’t you see they’re going to choke to death? Quick, give them some air that they may breathe...I stop my ears; silence, but I don’t feel like going to bed yet. I’ll read some poetry first...But can there be poetry in the world today? Is there a place for poetry in a world threatened by terrorism, missiles, nuclear plants, the greenhouse effect? Poetry in a world gone mad? If I am to give an answer, first I would have to know what Poetry is, have a go at defining it.
Poetry could be in Beauty; after all, wasn’t it Keats who wrote “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever?” Yes, that’s it, beauty, beautiful things, a classical statue for instance, the whiteness, the perfect harmony of the lines, a partially naked Aphrodite, a Venus de Milo...but the marble is cold and the hands and arms are missing, oh Christ!, the hands are missing from the dead body hanging from the roof of that discotheque in the island of Bali...They say there was a warning...I know, I know...
Love, then. That must be it. Poetry must be in love. “Poesía eres tú”, Becquer said to his beloved. But can you separate love from sex in our modern world? Ah, the all-powerful sex, lust, orgies...For goodness’ sake, shut up! I’m talking about love...I think I can hear somebody cry: “I loved him, do you hear, I loved my friend and he died in my arms, of AIDS, and towards the end he stared at me with vacant eyes, eyes that understood nothing.” ...The horror of all those innocent people trapped in the World Trade Center on that fateful 11th of September. And among their anguished, desperate pleas for help, a cry of love - Melissa’s phone message to her husband from the 106th floor of the north twin tower a few minutes before it collapsed: “Sean, it’s me. I’m stuck in this building in
. A plane hit the building or a bomb went off –
we don’t know. But there’s lots of smoke and I just wanted you to know that I
love you. Bye bye.” New
I’ll ask again, can there be poetry in the world today? A world of Colas and Pepsis from
; hot dogs and hamburgers
straight from Chicago, “the hog butcher for the world”, in Sandburg’s words.
Computers from Japan and Taiwan, computers everywhere, computers in the bank,
in government offices, at schools, personal computers at home, computers for
children to play games on – “hello, children, here’s your daddy, home from
work, won’t you kiss him good evening?” No answer; the following screen must be
got to at all costs. “Our pacman can’t get killed.” “OK, OK., I understand” –
pacman, there’s a new word for me, oh, the poetry of words, strange words,
modern words, current words: mobbing, facelift, metrosexual, the Chernobyl
factor, oil slicks in Alaska, ‘chapapote’ in Galicia’s coast, ‘cayucos’
arriving daily near the coasts of the Canary Islands, red tides in Japan, acid
rain, aerosol cans, carbon dioxide, arms buildup, money laundry, the Tortilla
Curtain, zombie food, words galore, words in a swirl, words, words, words, the
‘black magic’ of words... America
Finally, in my study, I pick a book from my library shelves – a book of poems by Robert Frost – and I read at random: “My long, two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree/toward heaven still,/And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill/Beside it...But I am done with apple-picking now.../And I am drowsing off...I should prefer to have some boy bend them [birches]/As he went out and in to fetch the cows-/Some boy too far from town to learn baseball...It [the West-running brook] flows between us, over us, and with us/And it is time, strength, tone, light, life and love...”
You, villagers of the world, if you read this enchanting verse, make sure you get Frost’s message, in his simple, everyday words, please, listen to his plea: go on picking your fruit, and drowsing off, afterwards; don’t come to town to learn baseball, or football, for that matter, if it can be helped; stay away from the killing crowds; grip your lover’s hand and sitting by the West or East running brook, watch its limpid waters flow towards the sea. Let it be your “strength, your life and your love.” Let us all “choose something like a star, to stay our minds on and be staid...” Oh, it’s really late, I’ll close my book now and try to get some sleep. Good night, friends...