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Some pugilistic poetry

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By John Pawlak

Art often imitates life, and sometimes life imitates art. But when the artist is a poet, life is most often ridiculed than mimicked.
 When I was young, it seemed that the lure of poetry was limited to the “classics” — Frost, Blake, Dickinson, Thomas, Sandburg, Tennyson, Poe.
 Ah yes. The masters.
 One cannot deny the art of poetry when yelling not-so-gently to that good night, riding along with the six hundred of that light brigade into the valley of death, or considering whether or not to take that road less traveled.
 I remember thinking that someone should put Whitman’s “I hear America singing” to music, perhaps something with a nice patriotic chant. Or Lawson’s “Grey Wolves Grey” set to a spirited marching tune. Either that, or a nice jazz beat.
 And I still don’t understand why my English teacher marked me off for errors in punctuation and grammar. E.E. Cummings butchered the language and he was called a genius.
 But even with my usual disregard for anything that wasn’t math, I found myself admiring the sheer beauty of some poems. A poem of joy is indeed a thing of beauty.
 Poetry isn’t just rhymes and Shakespearean sonnets underscoring the aesthetic qualities of life. Poetry can be the language of dissent, a weapon of words used to pray open closed minds to dangerous ideas.
 It can bea ugly and hideous, a beautiful thing to behold.
 If you spend time with the high school students during lunch, you’ll hear many of them listening to the new poets of Penzance.
 “Married to the game, but she broke her vows. That’s why my bars are full of broken bottles, and my night stands are full of open bibles.”
 Oh yes, the poetry of today’s generation does not walk in beauty like the night. Eminem is a poet, a rapper, a vulgar foul mouthed entertainer who paints his world with emotions that scream far louder than Walter walking the streets of New York.
 The common term for this barrage of sadistic sentiment is “rap.” And a common view of rap is equally poetic. It rhymes with rap.
 But just as aficionados of classic music would tell you that there’s an entire classical spectrum ranging from baroque to romantic, fans of rap would say the same for their songs.
There’s hip-hop, alternative, gangsta, hardcore, conscious, crunk, snap, southern, hyphy — an assortment for almost any taste for rebellion.
 And whether or not you like the music, you sometimes can’t help but admire the depth of emotion that bleeds into their words.
 Lupe Fiasco criticizes society’s obsessions — “Now everyone wants it like the last laugh. A Michael Jackson jacket or Daft mask. Purple Jordans or the mixed girl in your math class.”
 Eyedea laments about the American relationship — “So deeply and sickly in love, it makes him hate her. Well, this is happiness, masochistic torture, plagued by the decadent, craved for affection.”
 Sage Francis rages over the lack of concern for healthcare for young children — “Those brave soldiers combat the enemies of truth, in a broken system with an open wound that will never heal.”
 But social condemnation is not new to poetry. It’s just more obvious these days, bubbling to the surface, marring the shiny veneer of “How do I love thee” by counting the ways that people deal with real life.
 I remember learning how fog comes on little cat feet. But my teachers never taught me about the disdain that Carl Sandburg, a radical leftist activist, had for the human condition. “Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. And pile them high at Gettysburg. Shovel them under and let me work. I am the grass. I cover all.”
 Poetry is punching its way out of the melancholy meadow grass and apple trees of the cuteness once taught in literature classes.
Poets have a voice and it’s hard not to hear them, especially when you play it at
115 decibels.
 “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me. The carriage held but just ourselves, and immortality.”
 You know, with a half decent backup band, Emily Dickinson might have been a great rapper.