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WilliamPitt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:12 PM
Original message
Lest We Forget
http://www.blehert.com/poems/archive.html#reagan

Lest We Forget

By Dean Blehert

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
An elephant never forgets, but this is
personal, not political. We must make that distinction
or all our politicians would be institutionalized
for forgetting their promises.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
In his day he was called "Teflon" because
nothing stuck to him; now even memory
turns slippery.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Nancy went to his birthday party without him.
Was he missed? Probably not - so many people
know how to "do" Ronald Reagan...

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
What was it he said about the dead storm troopers?
That they, like those they killed, were victims?
Was that a remembering or a forgetting?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He said Americans should be proud of being
American. Was that a remembering or a
forgetting?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He used to know a great many things by rote -
that is, by heart, such as movie scripts, the
speech he took on tour - who knows how much
else he was or seemed to be was memorized,
is now forgotten or comes back only
in random bits?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He's forgotten about sending arms to Iran
for hostages - if he ever knew. If he ever
knew, he's forgotten he knew. He does not
at this time recall. He may have been an
honest man. If not, he is becoming one.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Nancy is taking good care of him. If he were
still President, probably we wouldn't be told.
Would we notice?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He used to be a spokesman for General Electric:
"Progress is our most important product!" - can
you still say that? Come on...Progress...? Progress...?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He is - has always been - such an easy target.
Now he's a sitting duck. It's not sporting to say
these things. He suffers from a disease. It could
happen to anyone. It could start at the top of
our nation and trickle down to the rest of us.
Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
It's not so bad: He can still play golf with
Hope. And now even his own children
speak well of him.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He is loved and hated for wanting to shrink
government, for failing to shrink government,
for forgetting the poor, for remembering the
rich, etc. He is loathed and adored for saying
it is not evil for a person or nation to prosper
and be strong. Now here's the odd thing: Nearly
everyone hates or loves Ronald Reagan for something
he said or is said to have said, and everyone
is certain that somehow events have justified
this love or hatred, but hardly anyone remembers
(or ever knew) just what Reagan did or what
came of it or how much of what has happened since
came of it. Today's newspapers are already a gray
blur. Tell me, who are these candidates really?
Even our pain becomes unreal the moment our
President feels it. What is the difference
between such knowing and forgetting?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He proved that an actor playing the role
of a political leader is impossible to
distinguish from a political leader. Is this
something we should remember or forget?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
His baiting the Evil Empire and his "Star Wars" plan
were so stupid that maybe they ended the Cold War.
Lebanon, Libya, Grenada... His idiotic economics
brought us huge economic expansion - or was it
ruin? Or was that because of the liberal congress?
O listen, I can't think with such stuff. I remember
only "Doonesbury" and that full forelock awaft on
helicopter wash that drowns out his smiling voice.
Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Does he still have a full head of hair? Does
Nancy tint it? Does he stammer more now, quaver,
jowls shaking? Can he still grin that grin?
Is there anything he must forget to be able to grin
that grin? Is he cheerful about forgetting?
Can he joke about it? Isn't Ronald Reagan
a pretty good guy? Nicer than Nixon, anyway?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Even as we speak Ronald Reagan is forgetting
things. There is so MUCH to forget! He has
just this moment forgotten "Where's the
rest of me?" and now he's forgotten preferring
to be in Philadelphia...and there goes "There
you go again!" But there is more -
so much more to forget.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
We, too, are alive but forgetting things.
"Surveys show that 60% of those under 18
don't know..." - that we fought in Vietnam,
that we didn't win in Vietnam, who Roosevelt
was or Truman or Ike (Does anyone remember
Gerald Ford?) - and one-year-olds have
forgotten almost everything, though some
have remembered how to grin that grin.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
And us? With each new miracle drug, we forget
all the earlier miracle drugs that are now
called evil drugs. We all know that things
have always been the way things are and so
must always be so.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
If we can forget fast enough, we will, at last,
be able to live in the eternal present, having
no past nor future - 100% guilt-free,
without plans, budgets, debts or regrets.
Someone will take care of us - maybe the Government,
for hasn't the Government always taken care
of the People? Ronald Reagan, of course, preached
self-reliance, but Ronald Reagan probably
isn't allowed to go for a walk alone now
lest he get confused - all those Pacific Palisades
mansions look pretty much alike.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Soon we will forget Ronald Reagan. It is said
that what we forget we must repeat. We will
forget Vietnam (he helped us) and have to do it
again. We will forget the Holocaust and have
to do it again. We will forget slavery and
have to do it again. We will forget religious
intolerance and racism and ignorance and greed
and cruelty and have to do them again. We will
forget ourselves and have to do them again.
We will even forget forgetting and have to
forget again. And so we will have to do
Ronald Reagan again. He will die and be forgotten,
but when we need him, once again Ronald Reagan
will be alive for us, forgetting things.

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Cleita Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:14 PM
Response to Original message
1. Nancy's gonna get you for posting this.
:thumbsup:
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sniffa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:16 PM
Response to Original message
2. wow
not much eLse to say. thanks.
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indigobusiness Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:17 PM
Response to Original message
3. Well done!
kudos
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FleshCartoon Donating Member (592 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:19 PM
Response to Original message
4. Good poem.
After reading this, I found myself thinking of Hunter Thompson's eulogy for Richard Nixon.

You almost want to believe in a god sometimes, don't you?
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FlemingsGhost Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:35 PM
Response to Original message
5. Ronald Reagan is:
Ahhhh... forget it.
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kentuck Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:42 PM
Response to Original message
6. I hate to think what the Freepers will do with this....
It's just not right to ridicule a sick man like that - especially if it is Ronald Reagan. I forgot to remember to forget you..
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WilliamPitt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:50 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. Explanation of the poem from the author
http://www.blehert.com/essays/onforgetting.html

On Forgetting Things

Message sent to someone who felt "Lest We Forget" is an unforgiveable piece of mockery and insensitivity:

Thanks for your comment. I think you may be missing something about that poem: It is intended to be more favorable than unfavorable to Reagan. Nor is it intended to mock his illness. Of course, the poem is the poem, and nothing I say here will change the poem for you, unless it's also in the poem, but let me give you my idea of it:

1. Context: Most poets I know are liberal, don't think much of Reagan, consider him sinister or a nice, but stupid person, a fool, a glib jester, etc. I consider this a rather knee-jerk view, suspect Reagan was (like Eisenhower) far brighter than most people think and did some good things. If anything, I'm to the right of him -- tend to vote libertarian. I intended the repeating line (which seems to be ridiculing Reagan) to be a kind of lure for readers with a stereotypical view of Reagan, and a way of working from Reagan's illness to Reagan as president to all the ways in which the rest of us use forgetting to live or to avoid living. Reagan (my departure point) is, in this sense, not so much one who forgets as an instance of our own forgetfulness in various ways. And in fact, our reduction of him to a stereotype is one form of forgetting.

2. My idea was to get at different kinds of forgetting and link them, show that, for example, we are all skilled at forgetting a great deal, and what consequences this has for us. Reagan's current forgetting is one of several (some far more discreditable) shown in the poem. Along the way, while bringing up the usual things associated with Reagan, I point out that his "absurd" economics may have created prosperity and his "stupid" evil-empire antics may have helped end the Cold War, etc.

3. More to the point, the poem is trying to get at the glibness with which we vote, think (politically), ignore, and forget -- WE, not Reagan.

I don't think of Reagan as perfect. In fact, I think he probably did a number of stupid things (not necessarily those of which he is accused and probably no more than most of his successors in the White House). But the poem is not intended to be an attack on Reagan. It's about the way we view politics and politicians. It's about the reader. I can't explain exactly how the hook line ("Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things") works, because its role changes from paragraph to paragraph, and I don't know myself all the elements of it. I chose it because it has an odd sort of energy from the clash among its various meanings. For example, when read the poem aloud, sometimes the line seems cruel, sometimes pitying, sometimes referring to Reagan, sometimes to the audience, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic.

For whatever reason, it's one of my most popular poems -- was accepted for publication by New York Quarterly (which however never published another issue since that acceptance), then taken by an anthology and is now in a book of my poems Argyle House has decided to put out. When I perform it, even liberal audiences seem to pick up that it's not meant as a mockery of Alzheimers or an attack on Reagan. Even liberals find it a bit of a relief when what sounds like the usual glibness turns out to demand more of them than cheering on their own side.

Or maybe some of them read it the way you do and like it as mockery. But most who've spoken to me about it have said that it makes them think more than most poetry on politics.

Basically, the key line, "Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things" is (as long as he lives) simply a true statement, neither mockery nor praise. What follows it in each section modifies it in one direction or another. The fact that the statement refers to alzheimers (one of its meanings) certainly doesn't make it inappropriate or disqualified for use and repetition in a poem. IF the point of the poem were to mock Ronald Reagan for having alzheimers, then your critique would be correct. In fact, I do APPEAR to do that in a few passages -- and even attack myself (and my listeners) later in the poem for doing that. The poem does begin with a kind of mockery. It gradually changes to something else. The mockery is there for a reason. In a way, it's a booby trap for the reader.

In a way, the energy of the poem is generated by the difficulty of holding apart and yet seeing as related the various dynamics (pity, mockery, respect, mockery of the mockers, etc.) conveyed by that repeated line as it acquires new meanings in the course of the poem.

Just as an example of the kind of tightwire the poem walks, there's a line about Reagan having taught us that we can't tell the difference between a President and a man acting like a President. This begins with the cliched mockery (Reagan's just an actor), but turns it around. The target here is not Reagan, but the fact that the Presidency has become, for us (the voters) a kind of engorged celebrity appearance. There's a bit more to it than that, but basically, it is NOT an attempt to assert the cliche, but to turn it around on ourselves. Reagan, of course, was not JUST an actor. He was an actor who was also a President. And if, as President, he was also playing the ROLE of President, what President -- what SUCCESSFUL President -- does not? And how else could one be President, given a nation of spectators demanding entertainment?

I think, given the above, if you reread the poem, you'll see how it works. If not, then the poem fails for you. But do read it once more.

Best,

Dean Blehert
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kentuck Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:55 PM
Response to Reply #7
9. And it is we that have forgotten...
But I doubt the Freepers will not read it favorably...Thanks for posting that addendum.

"3. More to the point, the poem is trying to get at the glibness with which we vote, think (politically), ignore, and forget -- WE, not Reagan."

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Disturbed Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-01-04 08:52 PM
Response to Reply #6
8. Reagon the White Knight
He slew the Evil Empire, didn't he?
He gave us Star Wars and we are protected now, aren't we?
He gave us Vodoo Economics, didn't he?
I forgot if he did or not.
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