“Something Like America”


Wordsworth’s description of “emotion recollected in tranquillity” is sometimes cited as shorthand for what poets refer to as the lyric “I,” the poet’s vehicle for private, meditative reflection. So what becomes of the lyric “I” if poems are not so much reflecting as enacting? I suggest that lately it seems concerned with seeking revelation not in privacy, but in community. Not in the meditative mind but in bustling bodies in shared space, in the transactions our physical selves are marked and marred by. The lyric “I” at this very moment is not alone, like the speaker of Bidart’s “Curse,” who hurls invective into the ether. Rather, it is speaking to a large, shifting, contradictory, multivalent body that is not guaranteed to hear or even to agree. Still, the “I” speaks. It is speaking at once from and to something like America.

(Tracy K. Smith, “Suddenly, Poets Are More Willing To Address Public Concerns. The Poet Laureate Explains Why, And How,” NYTimes, 12-10-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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1 Response to “Something Like America”

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    The horror. My previous comment on Rich applies here as well. Wordsworth was right, Smith is hammering home postmodern/identity politics/social justice talking points. Now, a poet’s private musings must find meaning in accordance with group identities and socio-political frameworks. He no longer expresses his private emotions, but those of a member of a group in a contest of power. Way to kill poetry. Sorry Tracy K. Smith, I am not dumping poetry and adopting the views of the party or going to the gulag.

    Liked by 1 person

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