Somewhere Over The Pachyderm Rainbow: Living in An Elephant-Controlled 2010 Election Diorama, by Jennifer C. Wolfe, reviewed by Elynn Alexander for Full of Crow.
Read the last review of Wolfe’s work here: Review of Jennifer C. Wolfe’s “Healing, Optimism, and Polarization”, BlazeVOX Books.
Once again Jennifer C. Wolfe takes aim at American politics in her newest collection of poetry, forthcoming from Buffalo’s BlazeVOX books. In them, Wolfe goes beyond the current political climate to explore the role of the media and pundit-ainers who “report” with seemingly unprecedented partisan bias, and do so shamelessly. She is critical, and she doesn’t pretend otherwise. She is a political poet and she goes with it, her point of view obvious, and in my opinion the targets are pretty deserving of her scorn. As Wolfe argues, though, it isn’t so much about specific people as much as it has come to be about a certain mindset. And while few of us take a naive view of harmonious co-existence, the nastiness often catches us off guard and we find ourselves wondering if we are watching an episode of “Punkd”.
Are they for real? But the sad thing is, as we read these poems, we are reminded that they are. We are reminded of some of the most egregious and ridiculous examples of politicians and their antics, reliving our ‘head shaking moments’. This is Wolfe’s diorama: an assemblage of some of the ugliest vitriole that the political arena has to offer. Wolfe will remind you of bridges to nowhere, elementary school style hand scribblers, crosshairs as “humor”, the golden 2012 ticket, memoir fiction, selective amnesia, and more. She covers a lot of ground, and if you share her disgust, much will resonate. Unlike many political poets, Wolfe doesn’t throw blame in one direction. She includes our culpability as well, as citizens often asleep at the switch. So many of us buy into these “talking points” and the facts- as can be discerned, anyway- are relegated to the back burners. We eat what we are fed and we don’t care if it is good for us, we care that it appeals to our lower selves, the selves that emerge when we watch Jerry Springer, something in our nature. It is some strange fascination with conflict, with discord, with drama, with one-upping, with smirks. It doesn’t have to be true. We can suspend our ability to discern reality, like the days of Wrestlemania, when people everywhere thought Hulk Hogan was real even when we saw the smoke and mirrors. We know better, and yet we want something that distracts us perhaps from the truth. The truth isn’t fun.
It doesn’t even have to make sense. It only needs to be repeated, the gimmick steadfast, and whenever possible the reality and difficulties facing so many Americans today can be obscured, as long as the formula is followed, including boasting about tax cuts despite record spending, national security, and who remains more true to the supposed intentions of the “founding fathers”. (The actual writings of said founding fathers are irrelevant, and the idea of our nation being founded in part so people would not have the myopic intolerance of a state sanctioned theocracy seems also to elude them, strangely enough…) Wolfe explores these issues, and more, in her direct style.
She starts with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, one example in a pool of many that could have been described with similar terms. She quickly moves on to the catalog, laying down layers of squawker indictments. The key concern of Wolfe’s, as in her previous poetry collection from BlazeVOX, is the polarization, the agenda of divisiveness that one would think to be at odds with the right’s purported “patriotic unity”. What they mean, we clearly see with the likes of Fox and co. and talk radio, is that this unity is based on an agenda of conformity to a pretty specific platform, discourse be damned. To be patriotic is to tow the line, and often to lie and agree to be lied to. It is to be a perpetual revisionist, to love the sound of your own voice more than the sound of your neighbors with genuine and valid concerns, to lose sight of accountability beyond the rabid assignment of blame to those they see as the opposition.
And that is one of the problems, as it matters little what politicians actually do. They will be blamed and credited along party lines, irrespective of history and chronology. We see history being rewritten as we are living it. Perpetuating it is a profession. They are part of “journalism”, pundits, they are “expert commentators”.
Wolfe seeks out this dynamic, shining the light. She does so by looking both at the actors and issues themselves, and how partisan politics often plays out in the media coverage of issues and current events. She doesn’t shy away from the influence of race, class, and gender and she brings an awareness of the role of corruption and special interests, such as through lobbyists and the career power seekers.
The poems give us a “who’s who” in contemporary politics, from Jan Brewer to Michele Bachmann to Tony Hayward. She identifies the key players, like Palin, and speculates about their persistence. (sometimes, their baffling persistence)
As I stated when I wrote about Wolfe’s previous poems, it is difficult to be a political poet and there is debate among poets about its place, some argue that it is our duty to comment and criticize. Some argue that politics have no place in a poem, and that there is no obligation to go there, or that the poem should never be burdened by an “agenda”.
I always say, and will say again here, that there is room for diversity and for poets of all stripes and persuasions, with or without a message, with or without a sense of obligation to delve into politics or social commentary. That Wolfe has decided to put her views out there is something to respect in my opinion, in an age where people worry about perception and often try to play it safe. Her poems are clear, straight, accessible, and reflect many of the news interests of regular people, from disasters to profiteering, the stuff of conversations.
Look for this soon over at BlazeVOX : here.