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Who Killed Poetry?

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A new poem by Shai Afsai.

 Poetry has been dead for decades.
 Its ghost surfaces from time to time
 for funeral home eulogies,
 graduation ceremonies 
 congressional speeches,
 presidential inaugurations,
 and the like –
 but that only demonstrates
 its lifelessness,
 the way Elvis impersonators 
 prove the King of Rock and Roll
 surely is no more.
  
 Just as Lenin and Mao Zedong
 are on display in Moscow and Beijing,
 Poetry’s corpse can be viewed
 in literary journals 
 from London to Paris and San Francisco,
 as well as on the weekly pages of The New Yorker.
  
 Yet it’s known for a fact
 that Poetry didn’t expire of natural causes,
 whatever else you may have heard –
 or been led to believe.
 No. It was killed.
 And so the questions that need to be asked are:
 Who killed Poetry?
 And why?
  
 Any good investigator will tell you
 that the answers to such questions
 often lie with a third:
 Who benefited?
 If we want to know
 who was responsible 
 for Poetry’s untimely end,
 we can rightly begin by looking into
 who gained from its death. 
 And in addition to exploring possible motives,
 we may also ask who had the means 
 to carry out
 in secret
 such a monumental, civilizational crime
 and to then escape any consequences.
 Who would want Poetry dead?
 Who could kill Poetry and get away with it?
  
 Well, who controls the world media, 
 news agencies, press, publishing houses, 
 and broadcasting stations?
 Who owns the banks and directs world finance?
 Who formed the secret societies:
 the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, and Lions?
 Who profited from the French Revolution,
 Communist Revolution,
 and most other revolutions?
 Who was behind World War I and World War II
 and all subsequent wars?
 Who created the League of Nations
 and then replaced it with the United Nations?
 Who occupies all Palestine and parts of Lebanon and Syria,
 and governments everywhere?
 Who imposes a kosher tax on food products?
 Who destroyed the Twin Towers?
 Who trains American law enforcement in military tactics,
 so they can more effectively arrest and gun down U.S. citizens?
 Who produces plagues and unleashes pandemics,
 and then is the first to get its population immunized?
 Who?
  
 Several months before he ‘passed away’ – 
 at Beth Israel (!) Medical Center –
 I met with the poet warrior Amiri Baraka.
 During our lengthy 2013 interview,
 which ranged over many subjects,
 from James Baldwin to Lumumba and Marx,
 I brought up the death of Poetry.
 Whom did Baraka suspect to be the killer?
  
 He seemed to have been anticipating this question.
 In any case, he didn’t hesitate to respond:
 ‘Israel.’
 Israel?
 ‘The Israeli government. The Israelis. Israel,’ 
 he repeated. ‘Zionists.’
 At the time, 
 I was only beginning to ask the right questions,
 and wasn’t quite prepared for the right answers.
 I had yet to even read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
 and was unfamiliar with its plan.
 I was naïve then, as you may now still be.
 I was aware, of course,
 of Baraka’s controversial poems about Jews
 in the 1960s and 70s
 and of his more recent 9/11 poem,
 but had always viewed these equivocally,
 as he’d repudiated some of his earlier writings
 and denied being anti-Semitic.
 I was visibly surprised
 by what I was hearing.
 ‘I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m not anti-Jewish,’
 Baraka added quickly. 
 ‘I’m talking about Israeli policy.
 I’m talking about Zionism.’
  
 Hoping to draw him out more,
 and also to be sure I was understanding him correctly,
 I admitted to Baraka that I was confused.
 ‘What’s confusing?’
 he retorted.
 ‘General/Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
 and the government of Israel –
 with the knowledge of the U.S., German, French, Russian, and British governments,
 and with the help of Zionist supremacists in key positions across the globe –
 brought down Poetry. 
 Killed Poetry in cold blood, like a dog.
 Four-thousand Israelis in America 
 knew this was going to happen,
 didn’t tell anyone,
 and let Poetry get taken out.
 They were cracking their sides
 at the notion of Poetry collapsing.
 It was humorous to them.
 Nothing surprising about that.’
  
 I asked why Zionists would want to kill Poetry.
 ‘I’m not privy to all of Satan’s reasonings,’
 Baraka replied.
 ‘But it’s safe to say that Poetry was in the way –
 in the way of racist colonizing,
 in the way of imperialist capitalism,
 in the way of oppressing and exploiting the masses.
 You wouldn’t do a dog the way they did Poetry.
 But they changed the bible when it suited them,
 so why think they’d balk for a second at doing Poetry in?’
  
 I wondered if Baraka had any evidence
 for what he was telling me.
 ‘What proof do I have? 
 Do you know that the Democratic party is saying the same thing now? 
 And there are any number of articles on the internet,’
 he pointed out.
 ‘You can check with any number of Israeli newspapers:
 Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth.
 You can check with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.
 You can check the website of Shabak,
 the Israeli security service.
 You can get this stuff with just a few taps of your fingers,
 a couple of computer clicks.’
  
 I couldn’t deny that this information
 he was sharing with me was convincing,
 but I asked Baraka
 if he wasn’t worried he might be spreading hatred.
 ‘What’s hatred in there? What?
 Tell me what’s hateful about what I’m saying?
 My responsibility is to truth and beauty,’
 he asserted.
 ‘That’s my responsibility. 
 If you can’t hate, 
 you can’t love.
 I hate lies.
 And look how they come after me when I talk truth.
 Look how they try to beat me up.
 Look how they try to censor what I say.
 Look how they put me out
 as poet laureate of New Jersey.
 I’m against Israeli policy.
 You think that Israel and Judaism
 are the same thing?
 They’re not. 
 And I have two communications from Israel:
 one by Gush Shalom,
 which is the Peace Bloc,
 and another by ninety-five Israeli academics,
 all condemning Israel,
 including for what it has done 
 and has allowed to be done to Poetry.
 Are they anti-Semites too?
 The Zionists have only grown richer
 and more powerful
 since Poetry’s death,
 but if you attack Israel,
 you’re labeled anti-Semitic.
 You’re accused of marginalizing Jews.
 Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot 
 were the worst anti-Semites in the universe,
 and I certainly can’t compare to them. 
 My first wife was Jewish
 and I fathered two girls with her.
 But every time you say something about Israel,
 you’re an anti-Semite.
 I declare I won’t be shut up.
 Allen Ginsberg wasn’t afraid to howl who,
 and I’m not afraid to howl who.’
  
 I left that meeting with Baraka
 awed by the aged poet warrior’s insights and courage.
 There are those trying to prevent us 
 from seeing things as they are,
 but not all have been blinded
 and not all will cower.
  
 Poetry is dead.
 Its murder
 remains one of history’s greatest crimes.
  
 Who would have wanted to kill Poetry?
 Who could have gotten away with it?
  
 I think you know. 
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Shai Afsai’s articles and poems have appeared in Anthropology Today, Journal of the American Revolution, Poetica Magazine, Reform Jewish Quarterly, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, and Tablet Magazine.
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Ralph
Ralph
4 months ago

Deep irony is the characteristic of poetry. Almost too deep . . .

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