Colonel Patrick Lang over at Sic Semper Tyrannis wrote the following about The Republican "Brand" as metaphor:
A classics professor once told his class in my presence that there no longer existed the possibility of the creation of an American national epic poem, something like the Iliad, Aeneid, the "Divine Comedy," "John Brown's Body," etc., because the declining cultural level and the lack of common values among the "American people" had destroyed the basis of wide comprehension and acceptance that would be needed for such an effort. That was fifty years ago. What would he think now?
I wrote in comments:
Poetry - any kind, whether epic or not - depends upon a spoken culture, whether literate or not. Very few of us today sit around in groups talking to each other, except at business meetings. Perhaps because of TV, or the automobile, or both (internet makes it worse but this began happening much earlier during radio era) - we no longer sit around and gossip to pass the time with our friends and relations. Therefore we no longer sit around and recite poetry.
In Lebanon (and Peru, Greece, and many other traditional societies, by report) people were still sitting around and talking within my memory, and I'm 45. This casual gossip sometimes led to poetry competitions. Some poems were self-composed and of low-medium quality; often they were poems, ancient or contemporary, by great poets. Simple country people would memorize sections of epic national poetry to recite for the amusement of their friends and relations. Men (and women - see Lila Abu-Lughod's research on Bedouin women's poetry) competed with each other to recite poems, their own or others', which would move or impress or amaze. Nowadays in Lebanon at least, the TV is always turned on, and it's the size of the living room wall, so idle chatter and spontaneous verse are drowned out by CNN or LBC.
My dad wrote Arabic poetry as an avocation.* I was always impressed at how the silliest, most materialistic Lebanese housewife would listen to his poetry with attention and offer intelligent comment. The fact that he wrote and recited poems made him worthy of attention and respect, and even people I thought were uneducated and uninterested in culture became alert and happy if Dad decided to recite. Whereas we Americans, including his ungrateful children, thought the whole business embarrassing.
Did Applachian mountain people recite poetry to each other? I don't know, but they sang each other songs, which are *lyrics*.
I don't know about the Irish either but they have such a gift for gab and verse that I assume there must have been an Irish tradition of popular poetry.
Great epic poetry, or great poetry of any form, needs the fertile soil of a living poetic culture. It can't arise out of a sterile medium. It needs plenty of manure, bugs, worms and weeds around it in order to take root, flower and thrive. I say that popular poetry is the manure etc. The true critics among you can discuss whether Bob Dylan is manure, earthworm, cover crop (vetch? clover?) or the coveted flower itself. (an earlier commenter had offered Dylan as an American bard)
Today the poetry slam has become popular among younger folk. People get together at a cafe or auditorium and read or recite their poems aloud, usually with lots of emphasis and pizazz, looking to wow the crowd. Whatever you may think of the poems arising from this movement, at least it's popular and it's poetry and it's face to face.
I believe a poem spoken aloud has greater power when heard in the presence of the speaker - the breath is spirit you know. Recordings give you a flavor but nothing beats being in a room with other human beings, listening to a poet (preferably acoustic, unmiked) recite.
When the oil runs out and we have to turn to homemade amusements, we have a better chance of developing some national epic poem or another. Maybe in the future an anonymous Lebanese-Irish-Japanese-African-American bard in the camps of California will compose an epic poem about the wars of Iraq and Iran and the bloody trials of Americans therein. (end comment).
I was on vacation when I wrote this so the internet ban was temporarily suspended. (Told you I'd be sneaky.)
*The poem reproduced here was written in casual, dialect Arabic. I doubt my Dad would want it to stand for all of his work, but it's the only Arabic poem I have of his scanned into a JPEG file. He cared about classical Arabic very much and was careful to write with clarity and formality. He also spoke Lebanese dialect with care in casual conversation, eschewing elisions and foreign words, and enunciating clearly.