Today, Mr. David Brooks spend his 800 words in the New York Times pining for a poet. Specifically, an American poet. Mr. Brooks is visiting Cuba on the taxpayer's dime because if an op-ed writer who spends 80% of his time crying in his beer about "Both Sides" and penning Whig fan fiction about a Republican party that never existed can't wheedle a trips to Havana as a part of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities --
But there are glorious manifestations. A lot of that national pride is based on cultural achievements. I am here with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, part of President Obama’s reconciliation with Cuba. Musicians like Smokey Robinson, Dave Matthews, Joshua Bell, John Lloyd Young and Usher and creative types like the playwright John Guare and the choreographer Martha Clarke, got to interact with their Cuban counterparts, while government officials negotiated future exchanges.
-- then what is the bloody point of being "Barack Obama's favorite Conservative"?
And of all the sights and sounds available to write about, Mr. Brooks' settles on the Cuban peoples' pride in 19th-century poet and journalist, José Martí.
...I was amazed how much Martí’s name came up in conversation here and how little Fidel Castro’s did. Martí is the national poet, the one who shifted the national imagination, who told Cubans who they were and what their story was. He inspired a common faith in a dignified future.
One foundation head told me: “When I’m depressed I try to read something Martí wrote. He’s a father who embraces you. I think he engages the best of Cuba.”
Nothing wrong with that. Poetry is a fine thing. Everyone should get drunk on it as often as possible, and any nation that loves and respects the written word is a nation which has a future. But here, at the very end, we find Mr. Brooks idly wishing for something he does not actually want. Something he, in fact, actively avoids. Even dreads:
Every nation needs to know who it is and what its collective story is. I wonder if the current U.S. malaise has something to do with the way we have lost touch with our own national poets, or even a common sense of who they might be.
Oh David, a world in which writers spoke honestly to the American people about the American soul and it moved them to action is a world in which powerful and influential con men like you would be upselling hot apple pies at McDonald's and not crying in their beer about "Both Sides" and penning Whig fan fiction about a Republican party that never existed.
Because writers that actually matter are writers who tell the kind of terrible and dangerous truths to which Mr, Brooks' entire profession now devotes itself to avoiding. From Very Famous Dead Poet, Percy Bysshe Shelly, in 1821:
...The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry. At such periods there is an accumulation of the power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man and nature. The person in whom this power resides, may often, as far as regards many portions of their nature, have little apparent correspondence with that spirit of good of which they are the ministers.But even whilst they deny and abjure, they are yet compelled to serve, that power which is seated on the throne of their own soul. It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age.Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves.Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
It is impossible for me to imagine Mr, David Brooks of the Acela Corridor who has spent his entire professional career cocooned within a bubble of privilege and officially approved deceit being able to withstand the harrowing experience of genuinely "comprehensive and all-penetrating" gaze into the American soul for more than thirty seconds without bursting into tears or flames or both.
Very Famous Dead Nobel Prize Winning Author, William Faulkner, explains why poets are, in every way, the mortal enemies of the kind of tepid, bullshit-based, finger-in-the-wind opinion-peddling that passes for critical thinking among the Elites of the Beltway:
The poets are wrong of course. … But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That's because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.
And finally, Very Famous Dead Science Fiction Writers, Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth, speculate in "The Space Merchants" (written over 60 years ago) about the fate of great poetry in a world where the writers have finally discovered that writing for truth and beauty is a short, doomed road to poverty and have moved on to more lucrative professions:
"‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietnessThou foster-child of Silence and slow Time ---‘That’s the sort of thing she would have written before the rise of advertising. The correlation is perfectly clear. Advertising up, lyric poetry down. There are only so many people capable of putting words together that stir and move and sing. When it became possible to earn a very good living in advertising by exercising this capability, lyric poetry was left to untalented screwballs who had to shriek for attention and compete by eccentricity.
So not to put too fine a point on it, but there exists right here and right now a group of talented individuals who, for lots of different reasons, feel compelled to continue to stand at the foot of Bullshit Mountain and shout terrible truths at the beasts on the summit. Some write. Some sing. Some pray. Some rage. And sometimes we fight among ourselves like mad dogs.
We're called Liberals. And while most of us are not poets, day after day, years after year, each of us in our own way goes right on telling terrible and mighty truths to an organized, powerful and extremely dangerous Conservative movement who use their billion dollar megaphones to call us traitors, and an organized and powerful Beltway Establishment that very clearly wants us to shut the fuck up and go away.
*Yes I have used this title before. And I may use it again.