Jessica Murray: Did you read David Biespel’s [sic] essay “This Land is Our Land” in the May 2010 issue of Poetry? In it, he has dire things to say about the navel-gazing of American poets and their refusal to engage politically, as poets and as citizens. I am curious whether you think there is a real dearth there or whether Biespel may be looking in the wrong places for his political poets/activists.
Jennifer Moxley: I did not read this essay, but I am familiar with the argument. It is made every few years or so. I imagine that Whitman may even have been accused of “navel-gazing” (which actually sounds like a rather pleasant activity, especially if the navel belongs to someone else . . . so yes, I am sure Whitman was accused!). But to return to my point, was the political implication of Whitman’s works visible at the time? And if Blake was, as Erdmann dubbed him, a “prophet against empire,” did anyone in his lifetime know? There are many ways to be political as a poet, and to be an activist. They don’t necessarily have to be connected. From where I sit, poets look hyperactive in their engagement with politics. Almost to the point where to demur from the caring and writing about every little nuance of mainstream politics is tantamount to poetic treason! So, perhaps Biespel and I are in dialogue with different communities. I wonder where he is looking? Or perhaps (at the risk of being very wrong about an essay I haven’t read) he is asking for his political poet to be cast in an outdated mold (for example, a populist mold, à la Ginsberg, when there’s no populist movement to celebrate such a voice—on the left anyway). Then again, ever since the sixties there has been an assumption that poets should be activists (why? is being a poet not sufficient?). There has also been, arguably, a way of being a political poet that is very self-serving. A quote from Matthew occurs: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”(I'm with Moxley, but... how can you be familiar with the argument of something you haven't read??)
Speaking of the mainstream, looks like they still have some work to do with regard to flarf, viz -