Considering the Void

by Jimmy Carter (from the World of Poetry which also has a video of Carter reading his poem)

When I behold the charm
of evening skies, their lulling endurance;
the patterns of stars with names
of bears and dogs, a swan, a virgin;
other planets that the Voyager showed
were like and so unlike our own,
with all their diverse moons,
bright discs, weird rings, and cratered faces;
comets with their streaming tails
bent by pressure from our sun;
the skyscape of our Milky Way
holding in its shimmering disc
an infinity of suns
(or say a thousand billion);
knowing there are holes of darkness
gulping mass and even light,
knowing that this galaxy of ours
is one of multitudes
in what we call the heavens,
it troubles me. It troubles me.

A rather blistering critique of Carter’s poetry can be found in an old NYT review from 1995:

At first glance, the vocations of poet and politician might seem completely antithetical. Poetry, after all, requires subtlety, introspection and fidelity to language, qualities not exactly valued by most politicians. Oddly enough, in the case of former President Jimmy Carter, the very qualities that helped cripple him as a politician are also the qualities that make him a mediocre poet. […] What’s odd about these poems is that they give the reader plenty of information about Mr. Carter’s day-to-day experiences, while revealing little about his inner, imaginative life.

Although I can’t say Carter’s poems are as darkly disturbing as Hammarskjold’s, they certainly show the imbalance from a career politician’s self-doubt and constant search to find and placate the other side of reason. Unfortunately I do not think the critic above understood his perspective at all. Subtlety, introspection and fidelity are in fact valued by most politicians. The nature of winning support in general elections, building alliances, and negotiating tough terms for power perhaps should be considered before accusing a politician of lack of subtlety, introspection and above all, fidelity.

2 thoughts on “Considering the Void”

  1. I disagree with Mr Ottenheimer and his needlessly scathing assessment of former President Jimmy Carter as a “mediocre poet.” Mr Carter’s blank verse poem “Considering the Void” shows sensitivity, scientific awareness and a sense of disturbing awe about the size and nature of the galaxy in which we find ourselves. Mr Carter demonstrates that he is not only a statesman he is also a man of letters.

  2. Thanks for commenting. Looks like the a scathing assessment you’re referring to is from the NYT, not from me. Apparently it isn’t obvious that I was quoting someone else? I changed the link from “here” to be more specific to the NYT. Maybe I also should update the theme/graphics to make it more clear.

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