Remembering Ted Kennedy

The Best American Poetry Blog
August 26, 2009

If today had been my blog day, I would obviously have celebrated Ted Kennedy. He gave Fred and me giant bear hugs, laughs and a kiss whenever he saw us. It was the inimitable embrace he gave all of America – an intensity of respect and love and belief in everything we could imagine for ourselves, as well as a little good-hearted elbow in the ribs always to keep it real.

And I might have done a post on the kind of sonorous, big heart, tear-in-the-eye poetry Ted Kennedy liked and frequently quoted from memory at dinner parties and on public occasions. It was often famous work – Frost, Yeats, Hardy, Blake – that edged toward uplift, sacrifice and self-effacement: the kind of poems that make you go quiet while ice cubes clink in the glass. (After all, niece Caroline anthologized many of these “family” poems into bestsellers!)

But what was strange on the few times I heard Kennedy quote poetry was how the meanings of individual poems often blurred and what lingered was a warm feeling that probably has its own long word in German meaning “how the great man quoting poems makes you feel more fleetingly ennobled than had the poet herself actually spoken.” Well, sure, Kennedy comes out of that not so subtly clan and class-affirming Victorian aesthetic tradition of aristocrats in public service, where kitsch glides against humor on the lubrication of drink and Marx stands in the corner of the room glowering at the whole sentimental mess.

Fine, call me sentimental. I’m Irish. I like to drink. I loved Ted Kennedy. And I loved that he loved poetry, even if it didn’t always quite seem to matter what poetry he loved at the time he was loving it.

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