Who Wrote Essays In An Age Of Poetry

Sad. Huge. Sick. Bigly. Unproud. Covfefe. Despite the fact that President Trump handles the English language like a three-year-old wearing frozen mittens, his words, both spoken and tweeted, have proved alarmingly successful tools of bullying, misdirection, and blame-shifting, enabling him to shape reality into an alternate version in which he is infallible and his critics are – another favorite – pathetic. As a literary critic wrote in The Guardian recently, Trump has used (or abused) the English language to “undermine the notion of objective truth more successfully than most novelists can dream of doing.”

What can you do when your enemy uses your weapon against you? Starting a few years ago, writers around the world began publishing essays, speeches, stories, and even, in a few prescient cases, novels warning of what awaited us were Trump to be elected. He was, and the weeks that followed were marked by reaction pieces by those same writers and others, many of them simply asking, what the hell just happened? Some two hundred-odd days later, Trump remains in office, and writers keep fighting his regime with the most powerful weapon at their disposal, trusting, or hoping, in its essential efficacy.

The fact that writers keep writing, keep putting their faith in words to accurately describe reality, keep believing that there are still readers out there who will be moved, possibly even changed, by what they’ve written, is in some sense the most audacious act of protest against this singularly linguistically hostile president. So many writers are feeling moved to record and resist not just Trump’s abuses of Americans’ civil liberties but his more basic lack of respect for human decency and civilized discourse, that we are now seeing several anthologies of writers responding to the Trump regime.

  • Tales of Two Americas

    Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation

    Edited by John Freeman

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    Tales of Two Americas, edited by John Freeman, examines the growing economic and class divide in our country through lenses fictional, factual, and poetic. Thirty-six writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Edwidge Danticat, and Karen Russell contribute pieces set in Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and other divided regions of our increasingly conflicted country.

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  • Flying Lessons & Other Stories

    Ellen Oh

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    Flying Lessons, edited by Ellen Oh, one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books, takes a similar approach, but aimed towards a younger audience. These ten stories take on topics common to middle-schoolers – family drama, broken hearts, growing pains – but told by voices less commonly read in the traditional canon. Young readers may not realize it, but the collection is an implicit critique of Trump’s xenophobia, and an eloquent argument for the importance of immigrant voices and stories.

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  • Radical Hope

    Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times

    Carolina de Robertis

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    In Radical Hope, editor Carolina deRobertis collects letters from writers, poets, novelists, and activists, encouraging readers not to lose faith in the face of these troubling political times. The writers, including Junot Diaz, Lisa See, and Jane Smiley, pen their missives to specific readers – a grandchild, a stranger, a friend – but their message is to everyone.

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    Standing Up for Your Values in Trump's America

    Edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians

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    Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians take a more straightforward, pragmatic approach in their collection What Do We Do Now, a book whose subtitle, Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America, clearly states its activist agenda. Writers and activists including Dave Eggers, Gloria Steinem, and George Saunders offer suggestions for how to actively and effectively resist Trump.

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  • Policing the Black Man

    Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment

    Edited and with an introduction by Angela J. Davis

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    One of the most visible groups fighting the Trump regime so far has been Black Lives Matter, and in the collection Policing the Black Man, Angela Davis brings together a series of essays by criminal justice experts and legal scholars about the ways the justice system has failed black men, and how the movement is responding to our country’s failure to protect its citizens.

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  • How Lovely the Ruins

    Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times

    Edited by Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda

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    Finally, How Lovely the Ruins, the least overtly political collection on the list, provides poems and essays intended to inspire and provide solace during these difficult times. The introduction is by poet Elizabeth Alexander, who read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at the inauguration of Barak Obama.

    At very least, these books can remind us that there was a time, not that many years ago, when our leader respected language, and give us hope that many people still believe in the power of words to shape our lives, and our future, for the better.

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  • Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America

    Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

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    How can we unite women in Trump’s America? Since the election, there has been a deep divide between the women that voted for Trump and the ones that didn’t. This book contains twenty-three inspiring essays written by diverse female writers, spanning activist Alicia Garza, editor-in-chief of Dame magazine, Kera Bolonik, Samantha Irby, and more. The featured essays reflect on the factors that contributed to our nation’s current state, and provide insight on how to move forward from here.

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At 86 years old, the poet Donald Hall can no longer write poetry. Not enough testosterone, he says. But the former U.S. Poet Laureate and recipient of the National Medal of Arts still has prose in him: He has just published a collection titled Essays After 80.

The book spans Hall's entire career, his family life, his addiction to smoking and his thoughts on his own beard.

From his rural New Hampshire farmhouse, Hall tells NPR's Arun Rath why he's still at it. "I love to work," he says, "and work in my life has meant only one thing and that's a pen on the paper."

Interview Highlights

On realizing he couldn't write poetry anymore

I guess it was about three years ago, and I realized I didn't have it anymore. It's just getting old. I think you need higher testosterone levels to write poetry than I have at the moment. But fortunately I can still write prose. ...

It was gradual, and I had the sense of poetry fading on me, or me fading on poetry, for several years. And then I would think "No, this is good." And then six months later it wasn't so good. And so I saw it coming.

I didn't really see these essays coming, and I'm very glad they came.

Donald Hall is a former U.S. poet laureate and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2010. Linda Kunhardt/Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hide caption

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Linda Kunhardt/Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Donald Hall is a former U.S. poet laureate and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2010.

Linda Kunhardt/Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

On writing prose now

Prose is not so dependent on sound. The line of poetry, with the breaking of the line — to me sound is the kind of doorway into poetry. And my sense of sound, or my ability to control it, lapsed or grew less. I still use it in prose, but the unit is the paragraph.

I had 60 years of writing poetry, I shouldn't complain now.

On how his age has changed the way young fans think about him

I began a reading with a new poem, which eventually turned out to be no good, but I had hoped it was. It was thinking about what my grandfather would think now to see me. And when I read the poem, I had just entered on the stage, sort of creeping and bent over and so on, and after that poem there was a pause and then there was a standing ovation! I couldn't believe it. What a wonderful poem I must have written.

But no. They felt as if they had seen, I think I wrote, a cadaver gifted with speech. They were applauding me at least partly because they knew they'd never see me again.

On aging and thinking about death

I really feel better about aging at the age of 86 than I did at 70. I cannot drive, I can't walk except by pushing a Rollator, but I feel a great deal of energy and excitement. Obviously death is ahead of me. I don't look forward to dying one little bit, but I simply don't worry about it because it's going to happen to me as it does to anybody. ...

At some point in this book I said that I expect my immortality to cease about seven minutes after my funeral. I have seen so many poets who were famous, who won all sorts of prizes, disappear with their deaths.

I write as good as I can, and don't try to turn that into some hope for a future that I could never know. I've had some people tell me that they knew they were great and that they would live in literature forever, and my response is to pat them on the back and say, "Maybe you'll feel better tomorrow."

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