Monday, August 4, 2014

The Forgetting, by Robert Pinsky

The forgetting I notice most as I get older is really a form of memory:

The undergrowth of things unknown to you young, that I have forgotten. 
Memory of so much crap, jumbled with so much that seems to matter.

Lieutenant Calley. Captain Easy. Mayling Soong. Sibby Sisti. 
And all the forgettings that preceded my own: Baghdad, Egypt, Greece,

The Plains, centuries of lootings of antiquities. Obscure atrocities. 
Imagine!—a big tent filled with mostly kids, yelling for poetry. In fact

It happened, I was there in New Jersey at the famous poetry show. 
I used to wonder, what if the Baseball Hall of Fame overflowed

With too many thousands of greats all in time unremembered? 
Hardly anybody can name all eight of their great grandchildren.

Can you? Will your children’s grandchildren remember your name? 
You’ll see, you little young jerks: your favorite music and your political

Furors, too, will need to get sorted in dusty electronic corridors. 
In 1972, Zhou Enlai was asked the lasting effects of the French

Revolution: “Too soon to tell.” Remember?—or was it Mao Tse-tung? 
Poetry made of air strains to reach back to Begats and suspiring

Forward into air, grunting to beget the hungry or overfed Future. 
Ezra Pound praises the Emperor who appointed a committee of scholars

To pick the best 450 Noh plays and destroy all the rest, the fascist. 
The stand-up master Stephen Wright says he thinks he suffers from

Both amnesia and déjà vu: “I feel like I have forgotten this before.” 
Who remembers the arguments when jurors gave Pound the only prize

For poetry awarded by the United States Government? Until then. 
I was in the big tent when the guy read his poem about how the Jews

Were warned to get out of the Twin Towers before the planes hit. 
The crowd was applauding and screaming, they were happy—it isn’t

That they were anti-Semitic, or anything. They just weren’t listening. Or 
No, they were listening, but that certain way. In it comes, you hear it, and that

Self-same second you swallow it or expel it: an ecstasy of forgetting.
The Forgetting, by Robert Pinksy

Wow there is full of pathos, regret and bitterness, even humor in this poem, as I read it and listen to Pinsky.  The irony is that the aging speaker isn't bemoaning his forgetfulness, but that of others.  I imagine that years of writing poetry have made his mind something of a steel trap and something of a sharp tack.  Poetry is a defense against forgetting, especially those things that have cultural and historical import for us.  The curiosity of memory, I suppose, is that even trivial things seem to get caught in that trap, too.  But with information growing, like cancer on super-steroids, every single moment, we in the modern day have only an ecstasy of forgetting at our disposal.    

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