Monday, March 24, 2008

poem as news, news as poem

I've had a lot to say - too much, for most people, I'm sure - about the cardboard caricaturing of American communist poets, an invention of the 1940s and 1950s after the apparent/alleged dominance of such poets in the 1930s. I don't mean their politics, which often can be aptly caricatured (or at least predicted); I mean their aesthetics.

To take an instance: Collage, one would think, would be anathema to a communist poet at the height of the anti-fascist movement.

Responding to the death of Franklin Roosevelt in the spring of 1945, the communist Aaron Kramer constructed an elegy of words he found in the New York newspapers of April 13th and 14th. The result is a poem that is most certainly not an effort to respond coherently to a major political event - maybe emotionally, but not ideologically. It's not, in my view, a great instance of collage, but it is a newspaper collage and it was published in the American communists' official newspaper. The whole text is available in my modern American poetry site/English 88. Here are a few parts:

QUESTION: What did President Roosevelt mean to you
Place: Times Square...

A black crepe bowknot
either with or without streamers...

They came up out of the subways to put the question...

the flag is flown at half-staff, it was pointed out,
but never with the blue field down,
as that signifies a signal of distress