Fellow citizens – remember that man in the moon
looking over at Earth, beautiful; breathtaking;
a glowing marble of blue oceans. But even he can now see
that poetry has been changing
in ways that will have profound impacts on all human poets.
12 of the longest poems in the history of our language
have been written in the past century. Last year
the automated re-use of words in some areas of poetry
reached record highs and the pool
of words considered unpoetic shrank to the smallest size on record
faster than most sociologists had predicted. These are facts.
Now we know that no single poem event is caused solely by climate change.
Haiku, epigrams, and sapphics, they go back to ancient times.
But we also know that in a world where there’s more words being used
than there used to be, all language events are affected by a planet ever
more robotic and garrulous. The fact that most of our poetry books
are a half-inch thinner than a century ago
didn’t cause books with titles like The Alphabet, Draft , Footnotes, Day
or Metropolis, but it certainly contributed to
to the shrinking that left large parts of our mightiest canon
feeling small and overshadowed.
The potential impacts go far beyond falling word levels. Here at home
2012 was the most silent year in our history. The plains were parched
by the longest sentence drought in its memory. Visual poems scorched
an area larger than Leaves of Grass. Only last week a conceptual poet
in nearby Alberta published a whole book made of 90s.
As a resident, as a father, and as a Poet I’m here to say we need to act.
My plan begins by cutting language pollution
throughout our verbal economy. Today
about 40% of our language pollution comes from our conceptual poets.
But here’s the thing: right now, there are no limits to the amount of language pollution
that those poets can pump into our word stock. None. Zero.
We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic
in our air or our water, but a poet who I know can still
threaten to dump unlimited amounts of the internet into a poem for free.
That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.
So today, for the sake of our children, I’m directing our Language Protection Agency
to put an end to the limitless dumping of pollution from our conceptual poets,
and to complete new pollution standards for both new and existing
conceptual poets. Now, what you’ll hear from the special interests
and their allies at Chicago Review is that this will kill innovation
and crush the literary economy, and basically end
literary free enterprise as we know it. And the reason I know you'll hear those things
is because that's what they said every time
someone sets clear rules and better standards for our sonnets and our villanelles
and our children’s health. And every time, they've been wrong.
For example, in 1970, when we decided through the Clean Poem Act
to do something about the epigraphs that were choking our anthologies -- and,
by the way, most young people here aren't old enough
to remember what it was like, but when I was going to school in 1979-1980 in Los Angeles,
there were days when the folks couldn't go outside because of all the children
struggling to lift those anthologies. And their language was spectacular
from all the pollution in the air.
But what we’ve learned from this and from foreign books
like R's Boat, Bardy Google, Eunoia, Flatlands and other disasters
is that we’ve got to build smarter, more resilient language infrastructure
that can protect our conversations and communications,
and withstand more powerful epics and even flarf. That means building
stronger semiotic walls, phonemic barriers, hardened image grids,
hardened language systems, hardened word supplies. That means
avoiding visual-poetry-induced droughts that can force a country
to truck in poetry from outside.
That image of the man in the moon
contains all those lyric moments we hold dear –
the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes
and dreams of posterity – that’s what’s at stake.
That’s what we’re fighting for.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the Unaltered States of Poetry.