Archives: Mixing Politics and Poetry

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Today’s post features a kind of cautionary poem that draws much of its substance from a particular episode in Roman History.  The subject matter deals with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D, but the lessons therein provide some commentary about the state of global politics today.

Leading up to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, excessive taxation and brutal disciplinary measures mandated by Roman authorities in the Germanic territories spurred barbarian tribes to revolt.  The uprising resulted in the massacre of three entire Roman legions – a staggering blow to what was then the most powerful army on Earth.

It’s hard not to see the parallels between ancient Rome and the global superpowers of today.  I guess I wrote this poem as a reaction to the incendiary rhetoric and cavalier attitudes that pervade much of our modern foreign policy. The stakes are much higher in the 21st century.  I didn’t crunch the numbers, but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more destructive power in one nuclear submarine than there was in all the Roman legions and all the barbarian hordes combined.  This poem is really a plea for rational thought in an increasingly irrational world.  Anyway, here it is.

Questions, comments, and criticisms are always welcome.  And as always, keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawk

 

When Varus Lost Three Legions, 9 A.D.

Far from the precise geometry

and carefully measured

customs of Rome,

Publius Quinctilius Varus

led his three legions

into the tangled

Teutoburg Forest.

 

Marching columns, four abreast,

struggled over the terrain,

stretching into one thin line –

a many miles long serpent

crawling half-blind

toward its own

oblivion.

 

The barbarian hordes

came out of the hills,

out of the trees,

out of the darkness itself.

Axes and hammers,

animal screams,

thoughts of home leaking

from cleaved and

bludgeoned men

into the gurgling mud.

 

We have come so far

since that late summer in 9 A.D.

Now, a few blunders

in diplomacy will

scorch continents

and boil oceans.

We can stir enough

dust with our madness

to blot out the Sun.

Those ancient Emperors

would be so damned

jealous.

Free Verse

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Financial Advice for the Middle Class

 

Well let’s see here, you’ve got a

Methuselah-year mortgage deep underwater,

a consumptive 401(k) coughing up blood,

and Alpha Centauri is closer than your next paycheck.

Let’s just forget about retirement

and plan on working until you are

brittle and empty like a cicada shell

blowing in a dark wind

among the withered stalks

of the blighted fields.

 

 

From the Archives: Jim Carroll

Wooden crossI had the opportunity to see Jim Carroll speak when I was in college.  He was absolutely riveting.  As expected, he read selections from his famous memoir, The Basketball Diaries.  He also did a lot of spoken word that was powerful, edgy, and utterly honest.  For the first time, I experienced literature in a live, organic way.  It was an awesome performance that still resonates with me today.

After the reading, Jim Carroll was gracious enough to field some questions from the audience.  A student, probably nineteen or twenty years old, asked him if he felt like a sellout for signing the rights to The Basketball Diaries over to MGM.  Now, this was back during the Slick Willy Clinton administration – right around 1996.  The film, The Basketball Diaries, had been released about a year earlier in the spring of ‘95 to much critical acclaim and commercial success.  This was almost two decades after Carroll’s memoir was first published.

If you’ve read the memoir or seen the film, you’ll know that Carroll had a tough childhood.  In his early teens he was addicted to heroin, and he fueled his habit by stealing and prostituting himself on the gritty streets of New York City.  By sheer will, he clawed his way back to sobriety and went on to make numerous artistic contributions in prose, poetry, and music before his death in 2009.

As Jim Carroll stood up on stage, he took a moment to consider the student’s question.  “We all have to sell somethin’, kid.  It might as well be somethin’ you enjoy,” he said to resounding applause.

If you’re not familiar with Carroll’s work, I suggest you take some time to see what he was all about.  The challenge now is not to emulate his style, but to find inspiration from him so that we might have the courage to write, unabashedly, what is in our own hearts.

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawkelson