Robert Pinsky: Four Poems for the Election

Robert Pinsky in Slate:

ScreenHunter_2378 Nov. 18 11.59Often, the best works of art about an historic event come from long before. Here are four poems from the past, in response to the 2016 presidential election.

First, Walt Whitman’s “Election Day, 1884” written about the nasty Cleveland–Blaine election of that year. Whitman says that the heart of the election is “not in the chosen” but with “the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing.” He speaks of voting day not as sacred but as “powerful,” comparing it not to forest glades or solemn cathedrals but to the fluid, dynamic energy of Niagara Falls.

Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal’s “Somoza Unveils Somoza’s Statue of Somoza at the Somoza Stadium” imagines the voice of egomania in power. The poem’s concluding insight about hate, a terrific final chord in Donald Walsh’s translation, hisses even more effectively in the second person plural familiar of the Spanish: “la odiáis.”

Gwendolyn Brooks’ sonnet from her sequence The Womanhood uses that form to present the relation between art and battle, with their related priorities and demands: a practical, urgent struggle for a black woman poet of Brooks’ lifetime. “To arms, to armor,” she writes, with her fluent mastery of the sonnet form enacting a victory.

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