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Plugged Stupid

By       Message Linh Dinh     Permalink
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In the preface to Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman wrote, "The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetic nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem [...] One sees it must indeed own the riches of the summer and winter, and need never be bankrupt while corn grows from the ground or the orchards drop apples or the bays contain fish or men beget children upon women [...] Of all nations the United States with veins full of poetical stuff most need poets and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the greatest. Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall."

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Boy, was our bard wrong! Though we grow practically nothing but corn now, we are bankrupt, and of all the arts, none is more despised and neglected than poetry, but don't worry, this article is not really about that dessicated corpse, but the climate that has made poetry obsolete, the conditions that are the cause and symptoms of our national nervous breakdown.

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Poetry is close reading and attentive listening. It requires silence, reflection, sustained focus and analysis, mental habits that are much atrophied in our culture, and which our young are growing up mostly without. In a society that always hurries, even to nowhere, fast, and values quantity over quality, most this, biggest that, poetry is truly a waste of time. We don't even have the patience to look at each other in the eyes and listen.

I talk to the side of a face, as this face stares at a screen. My voice must often compete with yet another song, replayed for the zillionth time. I shout in fragments, because even three sentences in succession would crash my listener's frayed hard drive, burdened as it is with trillions of greatest hits, sport statistics, Sarah Palin's aphorisms and porn images.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.


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