brings hatred to life. … The President has appointed himself our national theologian.That is a dangerous path. A part of me wants to say that there is nothing “real” about Mr. Bush’s theologybut, alas, it is all too real. FM: A recent Harper’s Magazine article asked why some people care more about politics than others, which is a way of asking how some find points of identification with complete strangers engaged in distant battles for survival or for greed, while others keep their thoughts from lingering on people whose names they do not know and could not pronounce. Why do you think you engage with the world beyond your door or your neighborhood or your city? BAS: It’s safe to say that I was born on the margins of American culture. My gender, my social position, my ethnicity, all of these helped shape my political responses to the world. I am, at Catholic. If I learned anything in my years when I studied theology, I learned that it is not enough to desire heaven for oneselfthat is a myopic solipsism that is antithetical to the very idea of a generous God. The second thing I have come to understand is that there must be a correlation between heaven and earth which is to say that the very idea of a just world is an integral part of being a believerwhich brings us, of course, to politics. Here, I have to insert that I believe firmly in the wisdom of the separation between Church and State. The problem I have with most Christians is that their theology is too small, too unworthy of God, who is much larger than our small imaginations. Most believers don’t know how to be adults in their faithsthey become children abandoning their minds in favor of childish ideas. The reason I cannot bear Biblical fundamentalists is not because I have a prejudice against “Christians” but because fundamentalists fall back into the useless and unhelpful categories of good and eviluseless and unhelpful categories because they mask more than they illuminate. I think people want to run away from the very complicated world we live in because it’s just too damn hard. FM: The poem, “Work: for the workers in the Juarez maquilas,” states: “I feel myself disintegrating, becoming nothing but/ Pure rage. But rage is cheap… You think I want/ To hate?You think I want to be mud? I only want/ To breathe. I want to breathe.” How does this rage it !form your life now, your work? BAS: Rage must be a component of any writer’s life. How can you live in the world and not be enraged? What is the appropriate response to the violence and cruelty of so much of what happens in the world? The question is not whether we should be enragedsurely, we ought to be. The real question I’d put to some people is: “Why aren’t you mad as hell? What are you, dead?” But this rage, that we must necessarily live with, it must also be containedotherwise our very bodies will become chaosour minds will become chaos. We need order. That is where writing comes in. It is the container where we place our rage and distill it, and it is transformed, if we are decent enough writers, transformed into something much more beautiful and gracious and forgiving than our rage. FM: What is your sense of the limits to the scope and itifluence of poetry in this country? BAS: Poetry has a very limited sphere of influence in this country. I would say, generally speaking, that the biggest influence in American society today is the “movie.” Movies are today’s novels. It has become very difficult for a writer’s voice to intervene in American culture in a very substantial way. A writer can claim less and less power. What, after all, have I changed through my writing? Perhaps, I shouldn’t say that no transformations have occurred. But those transformations are small. Well, I’m happy to take what I can. God, help mile, I’m addicted to this thing called writing. FM: A conversation I keep alive with fellow poets is one about consolation and rede p tion. Can or should poems console their read ers, redeem the world in which these readers live or should poems critique this world vigorously and consistently? Can the work of any one poet be so singular as to proceed along only one of these tracks? I am reacting here against what I consider to be a popular trend in U.S. poetry toward speaking only of the private stations of private livesbirth, love, divorce, deathin order to redeem their attendant sorrows, as if all human crisis were personal or psychological in origin. How does redemption .figure in your own work? BAS: Here you ask a difficult question. Poems can console. And while I do not believe that poems can redeem, they can remind us that redemption is possible. Because I believe the work I have set out for myself is to be a political poet not a crazy man who rants on the streetbut a political poet, I think I have set out for myself a conversation with the world I live in. I am not interested in writing merely personal poemsthough there is much of the elements of the “personal” in my work. I am not an exhibitionist. I do not believe that my life is supremely interesting. I believe that it is my task, as a poet, to examine the world I live in and reflect upon it. I don’t write poems to redeem the attendant joys and sorrows of my lifethat is a forum for my wife, and my family and my friends. I am a Catholic. I am a believer. I could not exist in the world, if I did not believe in redemption. I think, and I could be mistaken, that redemption is written all over my work. Despair is a moment of grief in my lexicon, but it can never be a way of lifeit can never be the attitude that wins the day. If I look specifically, at this book of poems, Elegies in Blue, I would say that redemption can be found in grief. I would say, that if a human does not learn how to lose and how to grieve, then redemption is not possibleor perhaps not necessary. I end my book with these lines: “Perhaps, this year, a harvest for the poor./ At last. This year. A harvest for the poor.” FM: My memory of popular culture in the late ’70s and early ’80s is that a wider con 3128/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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