Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

What to do With Old Hat


Some well-meaning young folks were handing out leaflets in front of a coffeehouse in Flagstaff, hawking a poetry reading of "Poets Against the War." Some passing gent remarked, "Haven't you heard? The war is over." One of the leaflet givers shook his head sadly, but the other one said cheerily, "Not yet, besides there will be another war." I was interested in the guy who nodded sadly, so I asked him, "What's so sad?" He shrugged and didn't answer, but I knew. April is poetry month, and poets all over the nation have a surplus of anti-war poetry. What do you do with such a surplus? Wait until the next war, or pretend there is still a war because you don't watch TV? Heavy question for the outpaced poets. Poets are not the only ones left holding the bag as we enter the post-war period. There are the politicians who made grand speeches predicting dire outcomes; Hollywood actors who posed, postured and sucked up airtime; the Europeans who feel like they blew it; the list goes on. What we need now is a firesale on surplus protest items. Well, it sounds cynical, but the truth is you can throw some of my own old pronouncements into that firesale. History may have stepped hard on the old hat, but what remains is not quite worthless. There was genuine anguish about this war, and that's sterling. It means that the citizenry felt, thought, debated and acted. That's precisely what the Iraqis couldn't do, but are doing now. (After some good-natured rioting!) Some of that protest poetry may not be all bad either, because in the best cases it was about suffering and being human, and that, no matter what the circumstances, makes us all a little better. Some of that empathy might now be transformed into positive action, such as caring for the wounded with real medicine instead of abstract lament. Saddam Hussein's Stalinist mustache has vanished into that great trashbin of dictator mustaches that's full also of squashed old hats. Now let's hope our ecstatic leaders don't make that poetry relevant again with another war. If there is anything worse than a protest poem, it's a recycled protest poem.

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