When asked by the President to fulfill the duty implicit in her honored position, Gilda Sopht—the nation’s poet laureate—remained silent: so memorably in the past had she marshaled the nation’s people through times both trivial and tragic with unwavering selfless grace and virtuous certitude, but in the aftermath of the Spill she memorably declined.
The President publicly expressed his disappointment with Gilda’s silence, but took no action political or punitive; privately, he was hurt, having wrongly presumed far too much in their few meals and walks together at her home in a storied region of the country. His reputation, like Gilda’s, did not gain much from her lack of verse.
The populace, or at least its vocal elements, responded mostly with indignant vitriol, emboldened and invigorated by the fuel of a fresh outrage. She was of an “advanced age,” they patronized; she was laureate “in name only,” they reasoned; her work had “fallen off,” they claimed; she was “out of touch,” they echoed; she wasn’t even “the real story,” they dismissed. Who Gilda thought she was exactly to deny her President the verses he demanded was one consensus: the opposite asked where it was exactly the President got off demanding anything from anyone.
The Literary Scene had once-upon-a-time been her community of choice, but she’d long since excised herself from its daunting and dubious grasp. Those she left behind—all the many Poets, Fictionists and Non-Fictionists—were predictably divided on the subject of her Post-Spill refusal to versify: opposing camps formed quietly; friendships professional and personal became strained or lost; public fallings-out became guaranteed fodder for the gossip of the less successful. Endorsements were made; outrages voiced.
“The field is full of shit-flinging fiends,” a famous-but-past-his-prime fictionist once told a friend, “and they don’t even throw their own shit. They steal it,” he later added when asked about what he’d once told his friend.
It became a standard question during interviews, asked by journalists hoping to both report on and provoke disagreement: “I’m sure you’ve been asked hundreds of times, but I’m going to ask you again, because we’re all interested in your thoughts on the subject as a writer, an intellectual—and even though you’re less than half her age and come out of an entirely different if not contrary literary generation you must have some thoughts on Gilda’s refusal, and since we have you here—what was your reaction to her failure to poetically act? Was it a indeed a refusal?—a failure, perhaps?—how would you characterize it for all those despairing millions in our viewing audience?”
Answers would be given, perspectives readily proffered. The less-concerned-with-their-reputation Pro-Gildas were quick to defend both her actions and her absence: they referenced her early and groundbreaking work as an important member of the Valley of Commerce poetical movement and praised her efforts to endow in the souls of her many students a deep and unrivaled and ceaseless passion for the craft of which she’d spent her life in ardent pursuit. But why, then, the Anti-Gildas would ask—why did she deny the nation she hoped to improve the one semi-rigid dictum it unequivocally expected her to follow? And hadn’t she disavowed her participation in the Valley of Commerce movement as merely coincidental? And it was true, was it not, that she’d on many occasions decried the teaching of craft and finally abandoned the practice in her advancing age? Both sides would predictably recant in the face of the opposition’s self-righteous-and-brutal-lynch-mob logic, struck dumb by the discovery that their personal truths, so seemingly self-evident and legitimate and just, were not universally acknowledged as being universally acknowledged. Instead they shared the shock of that discovery.
Of all the many theories proposed to account for Gilda’s silent refusal of the President’s request that she deliver newly-written poetic verse to deliver the nation from its earliest Post-Spill despair, the most troubling held that she—once a groundbreaking presence, a consummate teacher, a great friend to many a chosen few, the voice of a country’s movement through time’s triumphs, failures and aspirations—well, shucks: maybe she just quite simply had nothing to say.
But how could that be? A short six months after the fact several high-ranking thinkers proclaimed the Spill to be the “single, greatest fuel” available to the nation’s writers in their pursuit since the last big tragedy, the one before the other one; the Spill was, as one public intellectual put it, “simply begging” to be written about. No less than eight of the most successful books of fiction published in the first few calendar years after the Spill took it on as a vehicle for meaning. A number of well-respected scholars quickly forged a Coalition of Academic Inquiry and soon identified a strange extant schism: of those eight highly-successful books of fiction, only three were authored by writers of pre-Spill note. The remaining five came from the poised pen of brand-spankin’-new-never-before-heard-from kids. One digital critic wrote: “The works of our elder literary statesmen are not works of negative energy or unimpressive sophistication, nor are they representative of the individual writer’s worst offering, but any reader will feel a certain lack, as though these writers’ insights are simply insufficient for our needs in this uncommonly awful time.”
Poetry—once insulated and commercially unviable—saw a bona fide resurgence of credibility and fashion in the wake of the Spill, and suddenly became a medium of widespread cultural expression, due almost entirely to the emergence of new voices. The first such breakthrough followed the publication of a poem entitled “Please Clean Up Your Mess Mister Man” by the now ubiquitously famous Mandy “Lo Mein” Williamson, whose renown as a young poet provided her an easy path to digital media-based pop-demagoguery at the ripe age of only twelve. The poem began: “Please clean up your mess, Mister Man/We wanna play like Peter Pan/Daddy says you can’t let your stuff just sit there/’cause it just it just it just ain’t fair.”
Williamson was joined in her success by the public-spaces-only poet Uni Verse, whose single-stanza experimental poems were over a tenuous period of Post-Spill months found in the quiet corners of municipal parks and on cardboard signposts stuck hard into the gregarious green earth of common-ground enclaves; as the demand for his work steadily grew, Uni Verse failed to sustain his previous level of output, and tragically died surrounded by a crowd of over three thousand fans in Post-Fun Poetry’s first notorious death-by-trampling.
Then there was the sex offender Jonathan Lee Lawrence, whose child-like evocations of a pastoral existence via the traditional forms of Japanese haiku became immensely popular with post-Feminist women; Lawrence had famously served multiple prison terms for a variety of sex crimes, during which he was for ced to compose many of the haikus of his later fame only in his mind, his pen-and-paper privileges having been revoked due to an undiagnosed compulsion which bid him to create “connect-the-dot” games, complete with vertices and coordinates, the connection of which per his instructions would typically reveal pornographic images of children engaged in acts of extreme perversion; Lawrence eventually faded into peaceful obscurity after selling his work’s exclusive-and-much-sought copyrights to the Pedophiles Engaging Negative Image Society, whose national advertising campaigns made use of Lawrence’s innocent five-line-and-seventeen-syllable compositions.
Bridging the distance between high art and popular entertainment were the epic open-verse works of former Supreme Court Justice Nancy Bartholomew, whose re-working of such famous political melodramas as A Man for All Seasons and Twelve Angry Men and Inherit the Wind were later adapted into popular films and stage musicals, earning Judge Bartholomew a unique place in the history of the nation’s bar. And of course there were the members of the 14th Precinct Municipal Fire Brigade and their so-called “heat of the moment” method, for which they would enter a burning building, become sufficiently frightened then yell improvised verse mid-rescue into their radio headsets for the benefit of an on-loan court reporter perched fingers-at-the-ready not fifty feet from the flames.
Poetry and Fiction drew much from the Spill in the way of discovery, refinement and delivery, and those once-new voices have since been deemed the first most important curators of the nation’s Post-Fun Consciousness; the size of their cultural footprint raised many questions as to Gilda’s artistic place in relation to the Spill.
Theories of her abject wordlessness were not yet widely believed.