The Night of the Armies of the Poets; Poets of Today Wear Their Politics 'As Ashes on the Brow'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Night of the Armies of the Poets; Poets of Today Wear Their Politics 'As Ashes on the Brow'


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Poets and politicians go together like ham and lox, like teachers and truants. They simply don't see the world from the same perspective. That's why it was brave - if a bit naive - for Laura Bush to invite poets to the White House and expect them to act like poets. They wanted to be politicians.

The first lady was interested in "Poetry and the American Voice." The poets were interested only in making noise.

When the poets mixed their metaphors and abused their pentameters in an attempt at statecraft, the first lady cancelled her poetry symposium and told the poets to stay home. Not since Robert Lowell turned down an invitation to Lyndon Johnson's White House four decades ago to protest the Vietnam War had a poet gotten such an easy 15 minutes of pop fame.

What Norman Mailer observed of novelists is also true for poets: "If one was going to take part in a literary demonstration, it had better work, since novelists like movie stars like to keep their politics in their pocket rather than wear them as ashes on the brow," he wrote in "Armies of the Night," long before Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand and Madonna put on ashes (if not sackcloth). "If it is hard for people in the literary world to applaud any act braver or more self-sacrificing than their own, it is impossible for them to forgive any gallant move which is by consensus unsuccessful."

The consensus on this occasion rendered the poets mute, which might or might not have been a blessing for the rest of us. But the poets lost an opportunity to heighten public appreciation for poetry. They were invited to the White House to discuss Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman, all of whom would have upstaged the current company, reminding one and all of how fine the English language can be made to sound. Poets can be rebels or they can be traditionalists; we don't have to like their character (if any) to enjoy their poetry.

But there was something especially nasty about the poet Sam Hamill, who never intended to accept the First Lady's invitation to the White House in the first place, but used the invitation to draw attention to himself, to make an anti-war protest and to spoil the party for everybody else.

The poetry symposium was also meant to be the occasion to introduce and swear in Dana Gioia, a poet, as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts with a mission to revive public interest in poetry.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Night of the Armies of the Poets; Poets of Today Wear Their Politics 'As Ashes on the Brow'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.