Next I went to Discussion on Poetry and Policy sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies. Mostly I was tickled at the idea that the think tank thought such a discussion was germane. The stories that participants told in this session, which took place in the gorgeous and lovingly restored Thurgood Marshall Center, where Langston Hughes briefly lived when it was a brand-new YMCA, were fascinating. One young woman timidly apologized, she was sorry to be so cynical, but what relevance can poets and our words possibly have on matters of policy, on war making, on important political issues? Alicia Ostriker responded to her with a magnificient anecdote about Daniel Ellsberg, who, it seems, had a terrible and vicious and personal argument once about war and peace with a poet (which poet I have forgotten). The poet met him many years later, when Ellsberg said that he had gone away from their argument and thought deeply about what the poet had said.
And then released the Pentagon Papers.
Never underestimate the power of beautiful rhetoric. Alicia also talked about how she writes in response to her own despair and depression. I wanted to say something about the mental health implications and mental health cost of war, but didn't.