Closer Than That
The assassination of J.F.K., fifty years later.
Poets are not the unacknowledged legislators of the world, lucky for us, but they can be worldly judges of poetic legislators. Lincoln’s soul survives in Whitman’s words, and the response of American poets to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, fifty years ago, suggests that there really was, beyond the hype and the teeth, an interesting man in there. An entire volume of mostly elegiac poems, “Of Poetry and Power,” with a Rauschenberg silk-screen portrait of the President for its cover, came out within months of his murder. (It was even recorded, complete, on Folkways Records.).
John Berryman wrote a “Formal Elegy” for the President (“Yes. it looks like wilderness”); Auden an “Elegy for J.F.K.,” originally accompanied by twelve-tone music by Stravinsky. Robert Lowell—who in the Second World War had gone to prison as a conscientious objector, and in the late sixties became a Pentagon-bashing radical hero—wrote to Elizabeth Bishop that the murder left him “weeping through the first afternoon,” and then “three days of television uninterrupted by advertising till the grand, almost unbearable funeral.” The country, he said, “went through a moment of terror and passionate chaos.” Lowell’s friend and fellow-poet Randall Jarrell called it the “saddest” public event that he could remember. Jarrell tried to write an elegy but could get no further than “The shining brown head.”
For the rest of the story: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2013/11/04/131104crbo_books_gopnik?currentPage=all