Henry Gould made the following comment on the post of two days ago, and I'm going to take the liberty of moving it (lifting it?) to visibility in the "main page" of this blog, b/c it raises an important point of view: "Poet's [sic] aren't putting history into poems because they have a special perspective on events (the underside, the inside, or...). They put history in poems because the medium, the style, the form of poetry charges the history-telling with its own kinds of intensity. The effort to seek a powerful or beautiful language-in-its-own-right, or dramatic form (plot), is a way of underlining - adding force & interest - to whatever the speaker is trying to convey."
My post of yesterday may have already responded to this, in a roundabout way. I'm not willing to say poets do or should treat history all in one way or another. Ed Sanders seems to me like the sort of poet Henry describes (as I tried lamely to indicate below). There's also an interesting long poem by Daniel Hoffman, Brotherly Love, re: the founding of Pennsylvania, that assumes a rather positivist view of historical fact, and presents it in interesting language. And a lot of the "poetry of witness" does the same thing - and often lifts things into visibility that the reporters, historians, etc. wouldn't touch.
But I guess it really matters how you think about history per se. Is "it" something written in the history books already - is the "history" separable from the "telling" - so that, say, writing a poem about William Penn is an artistic presentation of something that already exists elsewhere? Or does the making of the poem change the status of the tale? When Longfellow predicts the disapperance of the natives in "Song of Hiawatha," or Cullen, in "The Prairies," the idea becomes - well, poetic. Elevated. True.
Is "Book of the Dead" or "Mediterranean" simply a different treatment of the same material Rukeyser presented in her reportage? I think that poetry can create a different point of view than that of the historian or reporter - one with a different set of effects and implications; that in other words, form/content is a false dichotomy. Or, said another way, that genres (and media) presume their own epistemologies.
Video, for instance, is truer than words nowadays. Poetry isn't true unless it tells you what you think it's reminding you that you already know.
But Henry might be getting to the heart of my idea of historical poetry as elegy, that I've mentioned before. Maybe it's only an elegy if you're not postivistic about it - that is, if you think you can never really "convey" it (or own it, perhaps). Sanders thinks that you can, and he is a happy warrior. And by the same token, maybe those other poets I mention below are just as despairing or nihilistic as the most radical dadaiste - for the opposite reason. Or just sad.
"The point is not to interpret history, the point is ----"
Aw, shoot, I forget the rest . . .
At the New Orleans Poetry Festival, April, 2017 - Eileen Tabios, Tim Dyke, Lo Mei Wa and myself before the Tinfish Press reading.
1 hour ago