Commentaries - January 2009
For years, preparing to write my book Counter-revolution of the Word, I spent a lot of time trawling through newspapers and magazines of the 1950s. At one point I found this ad for Republic Steel. Usually nutsy about jotting down precise bibliographic info, I apparently slipped this time, perhaps so elated at having found it, and alas never made a note about date or source. (I think it's from the Saturday Evening Post, but that's a guess.)
Two dark almost noir-ish vertical panels, lots of words (tons--far more than usual even for a full-page ad) in the central panel. Left panel: the neighborhood cop, standing at the suburban-neoGreek front door of the home owned by the frightened couple in bed in the right panel, is knocking loudly in the middle of the night. The husband narrates the middle panel.
You see, they'd listened to a radio show before going to bed - a program about "secret police dragg[ing] a family off to a concentration camp." (Not the Nazis - you can be sure the reference is to the Soviet gulags. Hubby was certain, when he first heard the loud knocking, that they were on their "way to some Siberian salt mine.")
But at the door it was indeed only the friendly night cop, McCarthy. The cop's name is McCarthy. McCarthy was there to save the day, or night: It was only a little easily extinguished wiring fire in the kitchen.
"I couldn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours. Kept thinking suppose it was the secret police! But that was nonsense. Here in American the police help us... not hound us like they do in countries where folks have forgotten what the word 'Freedom' means." Then, new paragraph: "Ah-h-h....Freedom! Pick your own church [oh you have a choice of churches; I suppose synagogues and mosques are beyond the choices freedom bestows, but never mind...], your own newspaper, your own candidates. Pay your taxes but do what you want with the rest.... Loaf or pick out a good job like I have with Republic. Help produce steel or autos or tanks...or work in a store or a bank, as you please." And so on.... [We have the option to "loaf"! If only I'd known...]
And then finally--almost too late--comes the pitch for Republic Steel. America is strong and needs strength. Republic makes strong steel. America is freedom and Republic is like America in its strength so it's freedom too.
Thank God for McCarthy! He woke us up to the risks of losing our freedoms!
After all, that little fire in the kitchen could have spread. Were it not for McCarthy's frightening, fascistic middle-of-the-night intrusion into your private suburban life, it might have consumed the Whole House. Be thankful for that 2 AM banging at the door. Be thankful for McCarthy's vigilance. Someone has to watch out while we're all asleep.
My office on the third floor of the Writers House is small, but look how many poets were there this afternoon after the recording of a new episode of PoemTalk: from left to right, Julia Bloch (white sweater, back to us), Sarah Dowling, Rodrigo Toscano, Bob Perelman, Tom Mandel, Rachel Levitsky.
Ben Friedlander is teaching a seminar on Robert Creeley this semester. Yes, just Creeley! For it, he's put together his own web edition of the Selected Poems. Although it is a work in progress, he has linked many of the poems to recordings we have on our PennSound Creeley page. Of course he can only link a recording of Creeley reading the poem when we on our end have segmented--into single poems--the many whole recordings of entire readings that we've so far added to our Creeley page. Ben's project has spurred us on to do more segmenting. He has identified some unsegmented whole readings by Creeley that he believes include the poet performing poems that haven't much been performed elsewhere; thus when we segment these sooner rather than later, Ben and his students--and everyone--will be able to hear more on the selected list. To say the least, I like this iterative process. Here's Ben's site (in progress).