What is the poet laureate in the time of Trump?
I recall thinking back very clearly about this question when Amiri Baraka wrote “The Day they Blew Up America” an interesting, inflammatory, and sometimes hateful poem that “cost” him his job as poet laureate of New Jersey. If memory serves, he said no when they asked him to resign. I forget what happened next, but this would have been when Democrat John Corsine was governor.
So now, we have Tracy K Smith as poet laureate of the US, and he poems are not nearly an in your face inflammatory as Baraka’s, but they refuse to accept the new reality as a normal state of things. I really do think that so man feel not just that their side is down, while the other side is up right now. I wonder, thinking back, how much I felt this way about Bush. I know that when he won 2004, I was done for awhile and lost my head to some deeply cynical falling into the Left. This was good because when I rebounded, I still had that flair, but it was more tempered. I appreciate where I am now because of it.
These poems challenge the contemporary by turning to the past, in one section narrating and assembling voices from slavery and the Civil War demanding decency and humanity in the face of the opposite. There’s the suggestion that without healing the open and gaping and still suppurating wounds of the past, the present cannot move forward in any meaningful way. This is a notion that I find challenging and enlivening.