County Poet Rejected for Writing Anti-War Poems


From the Boston Globe:

MAXWELL CORYDON Wheat Jr. was on his way to becoming the first poet laureate of New York’s Nassau County when county legislators realized he wrote not just about marshes and natural beauty, but also about war. The first verse of his poem “Iraq” reads:

“Males and one woman
sip coffee mornings in the White House,
talk of desires about Iraq.
For ten years
Less-than-Elected-Vice-President Cheney
evolves The Plan,
the Empire of the United States of America.”

The hearing on Wheat’s appointment erupted into an argument about supporting the troops. Nuance was lost. Tossing out this unruly poet, the unanimous choice of the nominating panel, came to seem like an act of valor.

Voted down by county legislators 6 to 1, Wheat nonetheless stands in the proud tradition of poets who write about war, an unflinching group who dip their pens into the worst of battle.

***

[C]ommunities in search of laureates should stop fooling themselves: Poets are largely not to be trusted with the work of comforting the comfortable.

Perhaps what some towns want instead is a publicist laureate or a cheerleader-in-chief, someone who puts out good news that rhymes or lights up a metaphor.

Poets won’t do for that job. Because poets, like Langston Hughes, won’t just let rivers be rivers; they freight them with sorrow and hope. Poets may hunt beauty, speculating as Walt Whitman does that maybe grass “is the handkerchief of the Lord,” or writing as Mary Oliver does that lilies are “like pale poles / with their wrapped beaks of lace,” but they almost never stop there. Poets also turn readers’ eyes to the rest of life, to jealousy, frustration, fear, loneliness, despair, and death.

It’s their job.

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