Posted by: Tom Triumph | October 2, 2016

221. The Art of Making Possible: Nancy Scheibner

Is hope trite?

My sister shared a parody pro-Hilary Clinton piece, which took me down the rabbit hole I’m sharing now because it ended with this poem.  Back in 1969, when the real Clinton was Welsley’s valedictorian speaker, she, too, ended her speech with the last lines of “The Art of Making Possible” (and, being a good scholar, she attributed the author, Nancy Scheibner, who was a classmate).  It is exactly the type of nice, hopeful poem an idealist student might throw into a graduation speech.

In searching out the entire poem all that came up was Clinton, with Scheibner a mention as the writers made other points.  At best, I got those last few lines but not the whole poem.  Eventually, at the Poetry Foundation’s (excellent) site I got a mediocre essay by Alexander Provan titled “Hillary Clinton’s Poetry Challenge”.  

Warning: It rambles a bit, and I’m not sure the point of much of it.  It feels like Provan wants to take a political stand, but feels it is not his place, so waffles.  Or he can’t make his point, and pads the essay.  Whatever.  It is a document of its time: 2008.  Obama’s “Hope” was destroying Clinton’s coronation and the knives were out.  At the time, Clinton, quoting Mario Cuomo, warned that, “You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.”

My feelings exactly.  Full disclosure, I was pro-Hillary in 2008 and thought of Obama as a nice guy, but a lightweight candidate at a time that required a sledgehammer.  I still feel I’m correct, and lament how much more would have been accomplished if that bulldozer Clinton juggernaut had been leading our nation.  But, I digress.

Let’s take Cuomo’s analysis at face value and ask: Can we govern with poetry?  If Clinton’s pointed admonishment of Obama being poetry is taken as fact, has his words governed us well?

On the whole, yes.  Beyond those who think Obama is a Muslim devil born abroad, even those who disagree with him like him.  He, and Michelle, make many proud to be American and see the role government can play in the public good.  It inspires, and after eight years people still care what he thinks about things because he frames it well.  Even if the laws are not as transformative as I’d like (especially that first year) our nation is in a good position.

Over that same time, Clinton has been hammered for her prose.  She does not smile.  People don’t trust her.  Don’t like her.  After proposing universal health care over twenty years ago, being a senator and Secretary of State, they won’t let go of the emails.  Having been cleared of Benghazi, and it being pointed out that Republican presidents suffered much worse similar disasters, people still want her to go to jail for it.  As president (if she makes it), I suspect people will begrudgingly take the meal (metaphor) she provides and grumble that it both tastes horrible and the serving is too small.

I don’t know if Clinton was ever poetry.  I suspect not.  But poetry drives her.  Hope has always been a theme.  Let us take a moment to celebrate that under many engineers, mathematicians, pipe fitters, and academics lie someone for whom poetry matters.

The Art of Making Possible
Nancy Scheibner

My entrance into the world of so-called “social problems”
Must be with quiet laughter, or not at all.
The hollow men of anger and bitterness
The bountiful ladies of righteous degradation
All must be left to a bygone age.
And the purpose of history is to provide a receptacle
For all those myths and oddments
Which oddly we have acquired
And from which we would become unburdened
To create a newer world
To translate the future into the past.
We have no need of false revolutions
In a world where categories tend to tyrannize our minds
And hang our wills up on narrow pegs.
It is well at every given moment to seek the limits in our lives.
And once those limits are understood
To understand that limitations no longer exist.
Earth could be fair. And you and I must be free
Not to save the world in a glorious crusade
Not to kill ourselves with a nameless gnawing pain
But to practice with all the skill of our being
The art of making possible.

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