Linguistic recklessness and the political norm

Dear Readers,

My most recent posting from the series At the Musarium may very well have been my final posting. For reasons both creative & political, the series has probably run its course.

Creatively, the experimental impulse that has fueled the series for about eight years has waned. For the last year or so, certainly, the results of the experiments have often seemed repetitious and margins for variation have felt thin. When a poet recognizes this about his work, it is time to move on.

More crucially, given the current state of political discourse, I have come to question the value of the quasi-nonsensical fun I’ve been having with words as represented in the At the Musarium series. I by no means disavow the fun that was had, but only point out the work to be done. For what good is to be expected from calculated recklessness with language, when a very similar strategy has become the political norm?

I would have been delighted, until recently, to have heard a reader describe my verses in terms of “raw, unedited, stream-of-consciousness riffs that teeter on the edge of incoherence,” but not when these are the terms used by respected journalist Michiko Kakutani to describe “Donald Trump’s Chilling Language, and the Fearsome Power of Words.”


How can I continue to write “sentences . . .  stuffed full with shaggy-dog digressions, frequent narcissistic asides, false starts, odd qualifiers, and free associative ramblings” when this is exactly what results from Trump opening his mouth & moving his thumps?  What Kakutani identifies as the confusion caused by Trump’s “word salad” style & what linguist Andrew Hines calls the “sort of metaphorical chaos” nesting in his rhetoric are very much the kinds of disruptions my experiments willingly courted.


Trump’s rhetorical collage of right-wing fear mongerings—juxtaposing building a wall with draining the swamp, set against a graveyard backdrop of abandoned factories dotting the landscape like tombstones—have had a sort of mesmerizing quality that Kakutani sees as having penetrated “our A.D.D., information-overloaded era in which the loudest, shrillest and most sensationalistic voices tend to be the ones heard above the din.”

This is the political context that makes this poet’s experiments with syntax, metaphor, malapropism, and various poetic voices conjured out of the associative stirrings of lexical frequency seem superfluous. When “word salad” has become the status quo, dishing it up can no longer be considered subversive. The necessary experiments are not any more ones muffled by surrealism but ones engaged in a more determined commitments to say what is meant.


Peter J. Grieco


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