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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 1 Number 1, 1973.

The Poetry of Protest Robert B. Shaw

IT IS DIFFICULT, and at times it seems impossible, to dream oneself back to the first days of the 'sixties, when the Kennedys were in the White House and both the Vietnamese war and the American ghetto were holding to a low profile. Politics then seemed a festivity, and the government courted writers and artists with unprecedented favours. Robert Frost laid aside a notorious scepticism regarding the state and its intentions to celebrate the inauguration of the youngest President ever elected:

It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.


But of course the age, as it came to pass, was more Neronian than Augustan. Vietnam, civil disorder, multiple assassinations, the sudden visibility of the poor - all of these conspired to flatten the champagne. We began the 'sixties with the Peace Corps and ended them with Mylai.

The emerging pattern of stupid brutality was discernible by the middle of the decade, when Lowell refused to read his poems at the White House. Soon enough poets in large numbers were reading what they had written against the White House. The marathon readings (or read-ins) ...


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