The funny thing about poetry is that few people read it, but when it comes to the big occasions of life, lots of people turn to it. From your wedding to your son’s bar mitzvah to your parents’ anniversary party, you hope to find — or if you know a poet, you ask her to write — the perfect poem to capture the moment. Poems are there for you when you’re alone at night, but they’re also meant to be recited in public, to be sung to an audience, to give a crowd a sense of being one.
Today we had a poem for a presidential inauguration — for poetry, the Super Bowl half-time show. The young poet was remarkably poised, reciting with brio. She has certainly brought excitement to many listeners — no doubt they do feel she brought people together.
But as Isaac Schorr points out, the poem is not quite the lyrics to the song of unity that President Biden was singing. When poetry meets politics, it tends to careen off the left side of the road. If what Shelley famously asserted is true, that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” conservatives had best run for the hills.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that, in 2021, the true Inauguration Day unity was to be found in the memes of Bernie Sanders’s trip-to-the-post-office parka and mittens.