My intention is to create a new media site, Citizen Poet, that will use topical verse to examine, explicate and comment on life in the 21st Century, a panorama and panoply that is rapidly becoming as broad and diverse, as glorious and inglorious, and as righteous and depraved as any previous period in human history.
And in my opinion, poetry is by far the best lens through which to view this strangely exciting, constantly amazing, and incredibly entertaining worldwide circus.
In development for almost ten years, www.CitizenPoet.com is a modern version of an ancient tradition derived from poets, troubadours, story-tellers, historians and even playwrights. Like its predecessors, Citizen Poet uses insight, wit, humor and satire to peer beneath the covers to discover the secrets inside the carnival.
In A.D., 64, the poet Marcus Valerius Martialis began writing short topical verses about life in Rome. He spent the next four decades commentating on everything from politics to society, focusing his poetic lens on rulers, politicians, merchants and shops, businessmen, society mavens and wannabes, street denizens and all sorts of characters, many of which could be the prototypes of people living today.
Martial excelled at both the exemplary and the ordinary. He could write tender lines about love, sensitive rhymes about death, sycophantic verses extolling the current Caesar, and comic shots aimed at stingy hosts, loquacious mavens, consumptive heiresses, medical quacks, cuckolds, adulterers, sleazy politicians, and even comb-overs.
While Martial could be described as more of a public poet akin to today news commentators, or perhaps a cousin of comics such as , there have been many serious poets who also viewed society's foibles through jaundiced and discerning eyes.
For thousands of years, poetry has been the vanguard of freedom of speech, serving as both revelation and conscience. Whether as rhetorical artists painting with words, lovers weaving conspiracies of the heart, or as philosophers unveiling concepts of life or logic, poets use the magic and power of language and allusion to reveal the underlying truth about ourselves and the societies we create.
This reliance upon freedom of speech and the ability to explore the full nature of man demands that poets speak the truth for the common weal, a tradition that dating from Philip Freneau, the "Poet of the American Revolution," to Robert Lowell who was jailed for his antiwar views, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and his pro-Indian and anti-slavery stands to Norman Dubie's protestations against American involvement in Vietnam, and from Joel Barlow's political views to Elizabeth Bishop's critical eye for military ritual.
Embedded in the US Constitution, parrhesia, which means to speak candidly about literally everything, was also a fundamental element of classical Athenian democracy, including the right to question, criticize, or satirize, and the even the right to ridicule that Aristophanes used freely in his plays. Today, Americans expect and demand the truth not only in courts, political arenas, and assemblies, but in business, private discourse, and even personal relationships.
More to come.... I haven't finished writing this yet, but keep coming back. I should finished it soon. Or maybe not.