Some writers believe politics and poetics do not mix. Like oil and water, fire and water, cats and water. Not true, of course. Almost any argument in poetry’s clothing is a political poem, and then there’s the obvious statement. The Dirty Harry, Go-Ahead, Make-My-Day poem.
Before I put my Wendell Berry collection aside, I’ll share a poem of this breed. In these dark times, I regret to say, Americans could add many stanzas to Berry’s work, then deliver the amended poem to the White House, where it would have to find someone who could read (much like medieval times, where a member of the clergy was on hand to read and write for the king).
Questionnaire by Wendell Berry
1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.
2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.
3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy
4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.
5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security;
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
Don’t misunderstand me. Donald Trump, who this weekend responded to the news of China’s presidency becoming permanent by musing about America following its lead, has not cornered the market on having to fill such questionnaires out. More and more, the world begins to resemble the 1930s with the types of leaders Trump, in his utter simplicity, admires.
Therefore, if it applies, many “leaders” may take up a pencil and respond to Berry’s queries. No matter, though. Wherever it’s taken, the final score will be Poet 1, Politician, 0.