Blog in Review: “how we can do cruel, barely human things out of perceived necessity,” 7/15/17

Kay Ryan’s “Crocodile Tears” has direct political significance. I discussed that significance a little, but I spent more time talking about the everyday behavior of everyday people. However, at this moment, politicians and other powerful bullies are flooding this country with fake tears. And it’s working. Do people actually value remorse and forgiveness in any way, or do they love the gross abuse of morality? They might see the ability to manipulate moral rules to one’s advantage as a power to be admired. By extension, people unwilling to manipulate those rules, people who are sincere or innocent, are looked at as deserving victims.

When I wrote about Yosa Buson’s “Early Summer Rain,” I thought about my inconsistency of tone. I decided to leave the silly jokes right next to the contemplation of loneliness. There’s something absurd about musing on two houses in the rain, but it is an absurdity worth confronting.

Ha Jin’s “Missed Time” is a gorgeous love poem. When commenting on it, I wanted to understand how we speak of being fulfilled. On the one hand, there’s the feeling of joy, but on the other, there’s our actual legacy. These two themes meet in a problem, the problem of speaking of that which is, so to speak, “beyond words.” “Missed Time” does a nice job — unintentionally, I suspect — of illustrating that.

Amy King’s “Perspective” speaks for itself. I never thought I would be convinced by Marxist critiques of media, but I find them to be more or less correct nowadays. Usually, those critiques go off the rails when they try to tie conspiracy theories about rich businessmen to how journalists on the ground actually cover things. A more subtle critique involves seeing what media coverage silently confirms, how horribly troubling attitudes and beliefs are given credibility. A historical perspective helps: if you can picture people 20-30 years from now retching at the thought of the Daily Mail and Drudge, you can start to see the awful ideas you’re indulging. I am not exempt from thinking stupid things about other people, myself, and I need to better temper my media diet.

Emily Dickinson’s “They Say That Time Assuages” strikes me as a poem that dives into the bitter end to find something truly redemptive, no matter how small. Not all of you may feel that way, and that’s fine. I do think this is a common refrain among serious poems, though. In a similar vein, William Carlos Williams’ “Complete Destruction” wonders how we can do cruel, barely human things out of perceived necessity. My comment on the latter asks you to think about how that poem, in truth, is as loving and pained a remembrance for his cat as can be had.

I took Buson’s haiku “New Year’s Day,” about New Year’s Day and the day after, as an admonition to write more. We’ll see how long that lasts.

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