I wrote “Enthusiasm Gap” on October 3, 2010. At the time I had grown weary of hearing particular language used over and over in the media, words and phrases that I knew, having studied Marketing in college, had likely been poll-tested with focus groups and found to be effective in manipulating people's perceptions regarding a candidate or an issue. Tuning into any news source, I could be assured of hearing key phrases such as “enthusiasm gap,” “dust-up,” “leading from behind,” “too big to fail,” and other politically-charged sound bites intended to “own” a narrative. I remember U2 saying many years ago, about the song "Helter Skelter," "Here's a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back." I wondered if I might, too, steal back the language from political pundits. Shouldn't language have a higher purpose than to gain advantage within a political campaign? I decided to use such sound bites as titles for poems and see where they might lead.
I doubt the pundits, in referring to
enthusiasm gaps, include the one
between my old self and my new, the way
I used to be like driftwood caught in eddies,
while now it seems I’ve hit the rapids, jigging
a jive downstream, not even anxious what
the end will be. And, too, the hard-nosed rage
I thought sustaining all those years has turned
as giddy as a child expecting gifts.
I walk the street and whisper blessings toward
the people that I meet—quite silly, yes,
though just as reasoned as the daily polls
intent on aiding some agenda, non-
disclosed, that pits us one against the other.
During political campaigns, commentators often refer to an enthusiasm gap between the Republican and Democratic parties, i.e. the percentage difference between parties regarding likely voter turnout. In other words, how much more likely are Republicans motivated to vote (how much more enthusiastic?) than the Democrats or vice versa? From the very beginning of my poem, then, I began to move the idea of an “enthusiasm gap” from the political to the personal—my way of stealing back what I consider to be a perversion of language, used for political gain.
In many ways, my collection Restoring the Narrative explores the differences “between my old self and my new,” two of the book’s four sections taking up (and interrogating) the idea of memoir, one’s own “narrative.” The section titled “Creekside,” for instance, locates me in a world of “beer cans up along the hood,” of “rants and curses,” of “murky depths” and drunken stares. The section titled “On Being Asked to Write a Memoir” begins as follows: “The question’s how to build a myth of self/somewhere between the lovely truth of words/and what reality will stubbornly/concede.” There is always a "gap" between reality and our portrayal of it, but shouldn't language be used to bridge that gap rather than exploit it?
The personal—no less than the political—is complicated, though. It is weighed down with questions, myths, agendas, and misrepresentations. Truthfulness about the self has its own distortions. Even so, as the poem begins, I imagine that “a language might/grow weary of abuse, cast anyone/aside and carry on untainted.” Such a naïve hope grounds this collection, seeking a language that “looks back in wonder,” a language “without perversity,” a language where a word “heals, sings, prays, listens,” a language where we might “reach to trace the light,” even a language where we “whisper blessings toward/the people that [we] meet.” Such a language, in our Age, might seem "silly," especially to those who are seeking advantage, but why not consider such a use of language to be "just as reasoned" as any other use of language?
If there is an enthusiasm gap worth exploring, it is the one between those who use language in order to gain power and those who use language “to edify each other, to prove/our souls are knitted.” It is the one between those who use language to pit us “one against the other” and those who posit a language where even the “diphthongs/in their dialectic [are] singing in accord.”
How easy to imagine that such singing might lead us to “something other, something wise,”—to no other kind of world than one where a fullness reveals itself and we “hear no other voice.”