In his book Why Poetry, Matthew Zapruder spends a chapter discussing a poem by John Ashbery entitled “The One Thing That Can Save America.” The one “thing” is not specifically revealed but based on some of his words and phrases, I concluded that it was something I had already figured out; that small towns and communities provide the glue that keeps America from disintegrating. That led me to the following thoughts, in a slightly different direction.
I mean no disrespect to other writers, but only poets can save America. Politicians can’t do it. All they do is raise taxes and look out for their self-interests. Preachers can’t do it, their aim is to save souls. Generals can’t do it, waging war is their forte. Most other writers are simply out for fame or fortune. Scientists can’t do it either, their goal is to save the whole world or find new ones. The media might have done it but it leaned toward the dark side once called “Yellow Journalism.” Tunnel visionaries all.
Only poets have an ambidextrous vision, able to see the world as it is and how it should be at the same time. Case in point. Abraham Lincoln was a poet disguised as a politician. In one fell swoop, at a place called Gettysburg he set the ship of state aright; realigning America to its proper course as a union and as some have said “a shining city on a hill.”
It is no secret that the “shining city” has lost some of its luster since President Reagan spoke those words. Where are the equivalents of the poets that gave us “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” “Concord Hymn,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the prose poems of Common Sense, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Those and other works, and the greatest Poem of all, The Holy Bible, united us as a people and gave us a common core of decency and respect.
One may rest assured that if and when a champion arises among us, whether disguised as a politician, soldier, or something else, he or she will be in his or her heart of hearts, and above all else — a poet.