Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Protest Garden: If Winter Chilled Our Souls, Can Spring Renew Our Hope?

            Here's the beginning of my poem entitled "Salute to a Winter," which appears in the April 2017 issue of Verse-Virtual:

Where did you go when we were not looking?
Did we leave you in the boarding area for the airplane to take us away
to some milder place where the headlines did not show us the ugly masks
donned by D-list actors bumbling through a remake of The Great Dictator?
Or in the florist shop choosing tropical blooms the size of small bedrooms
to hide us from the ugliness outside,
when goons with flag pins seized house cleaners to send them away from their children
and protect for our native countrymen the honor of cleaning toilets and picking fruit?


        Though I wrote the poems that appear in the current issue of Verse-Virtual, an online poetry journal, before National Poetry Month (April: that annual celebration of poetic-self) began, I am encouraged by Bill Moyers' timely linkage of poetry and national memory. Moyers quotes Czech writer Czeslaw Milos on the dangers of  "a refusal to remember" and argues that "memory is crucial if a people are not to be at the mercy of the powers-that-be, if they are to have something against which to measure what the partisans and propagandists tell them today."

            So this month I am offering more "measures" to apply to the current state of national affairs. Having exhausted rational analysis and pure invective, I am working my way through dystopian comparisons. When I consider the entire year-plus election season and the miserable first months of the new so-called administration, it seems to me that the entire country has plunged into an episode of "The Twilight Zone."
           One knows from experience that these scripts don't end well. 
            Anyway... my other offerings in April's Verse-Virtual glance directly, or somewhat indirectly, at our current situation, by way of debts to the most political (and radical) of English poets, Shelley. 
The first of three, titled "From 'The Grate America' Victory Tour," was inspired by the opening stanzas of Shelley's poem about a massacre of political opponents (titled "The Mask of Anarchy"). 
My offering begins: 

We traveled down to old LA
and met some killers on the way
dragging Lady Liberty to the dump
They all wore masks that looked like Trump

On either side the chains they bore
Drove women from the homes they saw
Their uniforms were dark and bright
That screamed of anguish in the night 


           The second of these poems borrows its title ("Spring Not Far Behind") from one of the most quoted of Shelley's lines: "If winter's here, can Spring be far behind." This line is taken from the conclusion of Shelley's famous "Ode to the West Wind."
           Spring, for Shelley, meant a fresh start for human society: reform, recognition of human rights, shared wealth. My own short poem's final line ("New seasons bloom on Western gale") alludes to Shelley's faith that a new hope for humanity arrives on that vernal west wind.  

            The most widely read of Shelley's poems -- it's a short one, a sonnet -- is probably "Ozymandias." My comparison ("Goddess") imagines the contemporary trashing of our nation's most famous monument, the great image of freedom installed New York harbor. "Goddess" begins:

The shattered crown full fathoms lies
Of antique form and freedom's fame
That boasted of one country free
And proud, days past, to wear the name
Of Liberty....

You can read these poems, and find many others by many fine poets, on