Wednesday, 21 January 2009

one nation under a groove

Yesterday was the first tomorrow we've had in almost a decade.

Can you feel that thing, that crackle? It's not hope -- it's fruition. It's excitement, it's crackle, it's let's get this damn party started, somebody plug those decks into a lightpost already!

Yesterday, language made a comeback, communication dragged itself out of Mercury's retrograde womb and declared it was time. After 8 years of abasement, words have been taken back and allowed to stand for themselves. This is some of what Elizabeth Alexander was getting at in her poem, with lines like:

" A teacher says, 'Take out your pencils. Begin.'

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider."

She is attempting to reflect the horrible awkwardness of renewing our ability to communicate, of reclaiming the power of truth, meaning, and speech. She is attempting to mitigate the humiliating feeling of the baby steps we may have to take just to get back to where we once were.

Unfortunately, the stilted nature of the lines she has produced have undercut her meaning, I fear, where she meant for them to serve it. That poetry might have failed her, on this occasion, is not a large surprise. For poetry is naturally suspect of man-made power structures and timetables. It is only generally willing to tell the truth by reflection or refraction, and neither one suited this occasion, which was one for absolute clarity and transparency, as President Obama understood so viscerally.

After 8 years of forcing words to twist themselves so achingly around situations without justification, we needed, the world needed, the simple power of direct declarative sentences.

She went for simple, universal, for montage, but what I think the audience received was easy, common, and misunderstood. The weight of the occasion forced her hand, as did the breadth of the audience. Sometimes, you really need to listen to what the words want to tell you. Sometimes the act of trying will simply undo the thing you are trying to do.

And sometimes poetry is not what is called for. I like her poem; I think there is power in it. I appreciate that poetry was included in the celebration yesterday. Yet, I don't think it was what was necessary for the day. Poetry is for the unexpressed, for the undercurrent, for the social subtext and the eternal truths we are so often tempted to overlook.

Yesterday was the triumph of those voices that build those words into action. After 8 years lost in translation, yesterday was no imagery required, no metaphors needed, no light shined in dark attics.

Yesterday was straight up text.

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