Politics and poetry

My head is full of politics and poetry this week.

The combination is disorienting and my conversations are worse.

It's like Whitman went to Washington, D.C., in my mind. I can picture him leaning over President Obama's shoulder, asking, "Do I still hear America singing?"

I can hear William Carlos Williams standing before the now Republican-controlled House of Representatives asking, "How much for a red wheelbarrow?"

And I can see Ginsberg howling at the bailout-receiving bankers and asking, "Are the best minds always destroyed by madness?"

I can explain:

Last week, I stayed up late discussing poetry with Matthew and Michael Dickman, who spoke at Ashland's Chautauqua Poets & Writers reading Thursday. They told me about the state of poetry in our nation.

This week, I stayed up late discussing the election with politicians, who spoke at events nonstop through Tuesday. They told me about the state of politics in our nation.

It turns out the state of poetry and the state of politics both can be summed up the same way: Neither is as sane as everyone would like.

Exhibit A:

The New Yorker this week features a poem each by Matthew and Michael Dickman, who are Portland natives, identical twins and incredible poets.

The New Yorker, in case anyone's been living under a wheelbarrow, is one of the nation's best poetry-publishing magazines.

But, apparently, in America, one can be among the best poets in the country and still have to stock produce and wash plates.

Two days before his poem "King" began to appear on magazine racks across the United States, Matthew Dickman had to hurry from Ashland so he could clock-in at his Portland grocery store job Sunday morning.

Michael Dickman, meanwhile, has been known to make ends meet by working as a sous-chef in a restaurant.

Not that the Dickmans are complaining. They're grateful for their successes and quiet about all the hard work they must put in, working days and writing nights.

Exhibit B:

Just turn on cable TV news for one minute. If you don't hear someone complaining about politics, you're either deaf or you have incredible peacemaking powers and should run for office yourself.

Other exhibits are all around. But, here and there, you can also see exhibitions of promise for the future of poetry and the future of politics.

Ashland High School students are writing poems.

Southern Oregon University students are registering voters.

And, no matter how much Washington forgets about America or how many Americans forget about Whitman, we can be happy here. We can continue to try to live sustainably, supporting the environment and the artists in it — even if it seems like the rest of the country is slipping toward madness.

No matter what happens in Salem or Washington, we can plant gardens.

And maybe we can help feed a poet or two with the produce.

And maybe the poets can help feed the starving souls of a few politicians.

At the Chautauqua reading last week, Matthew Dickman encouraged the crowd to send poems to their congressmen and women.

"If more politicians read poetry, the world would be a better place," he said.

During their Ashland visit, the Dickmans kept encouraging the artistic pursuits of students, teachers and community members they met. Even though the Dickmans are struggling to make ends meet as poets, they want to see more competition in their field.

"People say, 'There's so much bad poetry,'" Matthew Dickman said, "but I don't think there's enough poetry in the world. I think the world needs more poetry."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com. For past columns see dailytidings.com/ecologic.

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