28 November 2006

Wichita Vortex Sutra

There is an interesting recollection of Alan Ginsburg's poem "Wichita Vortex Sutra" (1966) as "The Last Anti-War Poem" in The Nation online. The author, Rolf Potts, ponders why the 40th anniversary of this anthem has been completely overshadowed by the 5oth anniversary of "Howl". (If you go to your local bookstore you'll find multiple commemorative volumes marking the latter.)

"In declaring war over "by my own voice," he is ironically underscoring the ambiguity and powerlessness of poetry as a political gesture. Consequently, "Wichita Vortex Sutra" reads like a prophetic and final antiwar poem, an elegy for the power of language in an age of competing information.

Because Ginsberg's revelations are difficult--because they seem to question the potency of poetry--it's no surprise that the anniversary of "Wichita Vortex Sutra" has been ignored this year, despite the poem's jarring relevance to the current American landscape.

Instead, the poetry community will continue to focus on the anniversary of Howl--not just because 50 is a rounder number than 40, but because it's more enjoyable to celebrate the First Amendment triumph of an old sex-and-drugs anthem than wrestle with a poem that reminds us of the limitations of language in a political world."

You can link to the full text of Wichita Vortex Sutra from this post.

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