Dichterbriefe – Folge 19: Tweeting Trump and Real People – Christophe Fricker schreibt Joshua Mehigan

Christophe Fricker schreibt jeweils am 1. des Monats einem Dichterfreund, dessen Buch er gerade gelesen hat. Die Texte sind eine Mischung aus Offenem Brief zu Lyrik und Gesellschaft, bewusst parteiischer Rezension und vertrautem Austausch. Und damit hoffentlich auch weniger langweilig als Rezensionen, die ihre eigene Voreingenommenheit vertuschen.


Dear Josh,

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you, about »America’s Pain,« a topic whose taciturn undercurrents eerily come to the surface in your poems. My letter of December 2015 reads like it was written in an entirely different era. Despair and disenchantment, disillusionment and disenfranchisement – we have been hearing a lot recently about the conditions in which »white working class people« have become angry and in which their anger has turned into votes for Donald Trump. Not all Trump voters are white, or working class, or angry, of course; most of them aren’t poor either. But most were attracted by the promise of change. Back in 2008, »Change« was all the rage; eight years later, rage, to them, seemed the only way to effect change.

Your poem about election day 2008, commissioned and first published by The New York Times, was not a cheerful one to start with. The optimism of the day seemed to have bypassed you: »Today my will is the weight of a grain of salt. / But then if the wrong one wins it’s not my fault.« And what of the mood at the polling place? »This could be Bingo. It could be a twelve-step meeting. / It could be a bake sale. I could be home eating.«

I was in Durham, NC, on that day, and the mood was decidedly different – festive! In a city where a substantial share of the population is black and Duke University academics tended to be East coast liberals, these two faces of the city may never have looked each other in the eye, but they voted for the same guy. This was at the height of the financial crisis, and For Sale signs were only outnumbered by Obama placards in people’s front yards. There was spontaneouly gospel singing in one of the food halls of the university the morning after.

I heard that where you live, in New York City, strangers did not avert each other’s gaze. But your poem remained cautious: The polling place was the »Same place as four years ago. The people arrive / tired by daytime. Nighttime is ten after five. // […] // The bathroom is closed to all but volunteers. / Democracy is slow. It can take many years.«

In a way you were right, of course. Democracy is slow, and everything has not changed for the better in the eight years of the Obama administration. Yes, unemployment went down considerably, and we’ve got the Paris climate deal, but Guantanamo is still open, and the chorus of those who sing your »Work Song« may not have changed their tune:

This fastening, unfastening, and heaving—
this is our life. Whose life is it improving?
It topples some. Some others it will toughen.
Work is the safest way to fail, and often
the simplest way to love a son or daughter.
We come. We carp. We’re fired. We worry later.

There is as much safety in the phrase, »this is our life«, as there is fatalism. This is our life, come what may. We worry later: »Whose life is it improving?« We fail, but we are safe, very safe even. We work for others: for our children, who we don’t see. We may be at the mercy of others, but this is a song about us.

I am paraphrasing of course, although I know fewer of the people speaking here than you. »Real people« is what they are called now – although this epithet has not been coined by those who tout it these days. Academics for a long time have spoken about »the real world« outside of universities, with a mixture of contempt, confusion, and frisson. So what is the life of these real people – »our life« – like?

We stay until the bell. That man will stay
ten minutes more, so no one can complain.
Each day, by then, he’s done exactly ten.
Ten what, exactly, no one here can say.

No one? How about the man himself? He’s working hard, he’s doing his thing, he may be hiding from the others, waiting for them to leave before he gets out. What is missing in any case is the notion that any of this is subject to change. Subject even to human agency. The forces of capitalism and democratic politics which have brought the situation about, through their doing or their negligence, seem to be operating at a considerable distance, and no intermediaries are in evidence. This is a very lonely life.

It is also not a fake life. The facts of life are clear. No one could deny them. This life is under no illusion. It is not lived on Twitter, nor in an academic journal, nor in an op-ed piece. It is not facts that would lend a greater sense of purpose to this life – it is faces, a notion of development, the hint of a point in obstacles overcome, a reward, a celebration, a community.

In other words: a song. Your poem itself goes some way in giving credence and legitimacy to the life depicted within it – I think! For all I know I would be very happy indeed if someone wrote a song like this about the work I do. Ten what – I’m at a loss myself quite often.

So will Trump’s government make a difference? Will the Breitbart beat, the Spicer girls around Kellyanne Conway, the two-step between campaign trail and golf course provide new lines to an underrated story? Trying to repeal the act as a result of which 20 million Americans were able to get health insurance while promising a 300 billion (!) dollar tax cut to people at the top end of the wealth spectrum in one and the same piece of legislation is an odd start, to say the least. Calling this proposal an »act of mercy« is just the icing on the cake.

Somehow I think you’re sceptical too. »Nothing here ever changes, till it does« – the final line of your poem, »Here,« gives the impression of a violent reversal, too sudden to be sustainable, too cruel to care.

Will tweeting Trump enable real people to sing a new song? What do you think?

I send love to you and Talia

.Joshua Mehigan
Accepting the Disaster

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2014
Hardcover, 96 S.
€ 22,36 (D)

»Accepting the Disaster« bei Amazon kaufen


Christophe Fricker. Foto: © Chiara Dazi
Christophe Fricker.
Foto: © Chiara Dazi

Christophe Fricker, geb. 1978, schreibt über die Möglichkeiten von Freundschaft, die Grenzen des Wissens und die Unwägbarkeiten der Mobilität. Mit Tom Nolan und Timothy J. Senior veröffentlichte er den zweisprachigen, illustrierten Gedichtband »Meet Your Party«. 2015 gab er die »Gespräche über Schmerz, Tod und Verzweiflung« zwischen Ernst Jünger und André Müller heraus, die das Deutschlandradio eine »Sensation« nannte. Frickers Buch »Stefan George: Gedichte für Dich«, eine Einführung in das Werk Georges, stand auf Platz 2 auf der NDR/SZ-Sachbuchbestenliste. Für den Gedichtband »Das schöne Auge des Betrachters« wurde er mit dem Hermann Hesse Förderpreis ausgezeichnet. Alle bereits erschienenen Folgen von »Dichterbriefe« finden Sie hier.

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