At times I can barely understand myself,
living in the place called Brainwash.
My visitors talk to me in headlines
I reply with absurd proverbs.
(from Piotr Gwiazda's "Four Autobiographies," a poem in his new book Gagarin Street, which arrived in the mail about fifteen minutes ago).
The poem is about being an immigrant to America, but I think many of us, at this time when political strain and propaganda has distorted language,know what Gwiazda means. I remember an old comment of W.H. Auden's about feeling caught between the language of agitprop (that's agitation and propaganda, for those of you not immersed in the culture of the 1930s) and Mallarme. I remember, too, that old saw about Language poetry coming into being in response to the corruption of public discourse following Vietnam. Lately, I suppose, everything feels like a headline, and every headline feels like a lie. How to talk back? More headlines? A set of rah-rah propagandistic tropes of our own to counter (if only for a few) the angry spew of Fox News? Or something subtle, something that, with its recognition of nuance, irony, and difficulty, seems cryptic and odd, and destined to survive nowhere but in the valley of its own making. Gwiazda sees the problem. I can't wait to finish the book.