Even a Poet Laureate
Doesn’t Deserve to Get Beaten by the Police

As someone who doesn’t care much
about government awards or titles
given to artists, I still say a 70-year-old
former Poet Laureate of the United States
should have some extra layer of protection
from getting beaten with billy clubs
by a Berkeley police-riot squad.
I once read with Robert Hass
at a 1997 conference at Rutgers University
on Poetry & the Public Sphere,
and thought he had some terrific
environmentalist & other poems. It was inspiring
to read in Sunday’s NY Times that he
and several poet colleagues had
bravely put their bodies on the line.
How did so many police officers
around the country learn in unison
to become so unlawful
so soon after the Occupy movement
was born? And who is teaching these rogue cops
how to bruise and break poets’ ribs, how to
block and arrest journalists in their running
shoes, how to pepper-spray sitting students,
and how to destroy thousands of books
from the Occupy Wall Street free library?
How is it that government officials
and rows of men and women
wearing uniforms of ceremonial blue
can be so oblivious to the importance
of such resonating social symbols?
And why hasn’t our poetry-loving President
weighed in? We shouldn’t have to risk
our physical safety to speak our minds!
Eventually the police violence will end
and the nation’s eyes will be forced
to look squarely at the issues–of economic
justice and democracy, continuing war and
racism, universal access to education
and health care, deteriorating foundations
of housing and jobs, how to keep the planet
livable for all, politicians and elections bought
and paid–being raised by the growing Occupy
protests. Until then, I suggest poets exercising
their freedom of expression in public
consider wearing some protective padding
over their vulnerable semi-colons.

 

–November 2011

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