Wallace Stevens said reality exerts a pressure against which the imagination pushes and to which it must adhere. Stevens's aesthetic anxieties warned that poetry became flighty and lost energy the less it referred to reality. His historical anxieties, fueled by a world at war and a society encumbered by an inordinate practicality, warned of a climate in which reality easily crushes the life out of poetic imagination. Today we face a world of fake news and demagogues that seem to threaten the very pressure of reality, the communal space we live in, through the spontaneous creation of lies. In other words, political discourse has ceased to adhere to reality and has become reckless. In such a moment it's tempting for poets to resort to a new realism in an attempt to render poetry's necessary fictions harmless within a larger public discourse of lies. One is tempted to create a manifesto of such a new realism to which poets could subscribe and continue work safely, thereby turning up the pressure of reality in fear that its adversarial power is in danger of slacking. Then we would somehow renew the energy of imagination in poetic contention with reality. But the poet's reality is never really threatened, and such a manifesto is redundant to the poet's task, which remains the seeking of and agonistic grappling with whatever is real.
Friday, December 9, 2016
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Love or power, darling,
I was never sure which,
but it saved me from dreadful
piano bars Saturday nights
trying to forget my respectable
week in a solicitor's office.
No, rock put me on streets
selling rags for salt pennies
and worshipping Liza
and Hendrix from down
in that dungeon of struggle,
but also wailing blues
and outrageous faery metal
by night, love. That's what saved me.
The bad contracts, too, and friends
on drum, guitar and bass to back me.
There simply wasn't time to stop trying,
not with need at two-four time
in our blood, not even after
Bohemian Rhapsody broke out its six minutes
at number one for weeks, no,
my ass was too hot to plant
on laurels, darling.
Don't tell me it was an act of will
touring American until I was hoarse
and sometimes meant the contempt,
a sweaty shoulder turned to the black
beyond the hard light of the stage.
It happens to us all: not getting enough.
Montreux's lovely cold spaces
gave us breaks to record hits,
to throw tantrums, too, I'm afraid,
but there's only one right way
to do things after all, dear.
And then there were all those naughty
boys in the clubs of Munich
just wanting to knock down a star--
and forget you if you think I regret
those discos, the jilted girls
and my millions. Then we played
Sun City--I'm African after all--
and the world tried to come down on us.
Rolling Stone called us fascist,
and that got on my tits for a while.
I told you, there was never time to stop,
not even when the sores appeared
and nodules grew to shut my throat.
Sometimes I stopped,
but there were always wine and my cats
and a carton of ciggies at hand,
sending presents to friends I'd pissed off
too badly, singing along with "Cabaret".
I said forget you if I have regrets.
There was a tight little office in London
waiting for me. Think of it: thrown
from Zanzibar to boarding school in India
then reading the law in Britain to become
some drab with a job and broken dreams.
You go ahead and wear that life. I am
the phoenix always rising. That's why
Geldof called us back for Live Aid.
Elton said we stole the show. Slump, my derriere!
If it all kills me I can still sit at my piano
and sing arias until my larynx cracks.
I only regret looking back too much,
but who can blame me? There'll always be
Wembley, that deep surge in the stadium,
the crowd gaga, their hands raised in the beat.