Agitprop, and Other Words You Didn’t Know

When I first heard that poems by Prof. Bourne, founder and editor-in-chief of our beloved Artful Dodge, were going to be featured in Salmagundi‘s anniversary issue, I felt a bunch of different feelings. Excited, proud, and inspired were a few of them but I also felt a little bit stupid. You see, I had no idea what the title of one of those poems meant.

For those who don’t know, Salmagundi is a very popular, very esteemed literary magazine and joining Daniel Bourne in The Best of Salmagundi are revered writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Adrienne Rich, Susan Sontag, Nadine Gordimer, and V.S. Naipaul. Two of Bourne’s poems, originally published in the year 2000, were selected by the magazine’s editors to appear in this anthology of the “best of the best” poetry, prose, and fiction it has printed so far. As for the one poem in question here, “Agitrop” is what it’s called and although I looked up the word in the dictionary, I’m definitely going to have to ask Prof. Bourne, in person, what his thoughts behind these verses were. If you, dear reader, have any ideas, let us know!


The fog goes over the pasture this morning,
over the horses out in the early mist,
the shrill whistle of the agitprop train
only in the book I am reading, only enough
to make my ears twist this way
and that, to make my nostrils grow tense,
the horse cavalry just over the hill, each man
more familiar with his own steaming coat
than the man stooping there by the village well
is intimate with the names of each
of his children, even those who died as infants.
The saber always gets drawn
before it is needed. And in this new story the
old story is no different, even though
I don’t want my mind to head that way,
just watching these horses in our neighbor’s field
munch at the covering fog, even though
I too would have to bow down
the small loaf of my head, the salt of life
easily shaken on the ground,
as I murmur welcome, red cavalry, welcome,
and the Red Army gallops through the village,
the White Army melts across the shallow river,
the pupils in the local boarding school slaughtered,
and meanwhile the whistle of the agitprop train,
the next blood-painted icon to chug into the station
all whistles and steam, the right ear
twitching on a colt in the pasture
next to the troops unloading and unloading,
the next horrific story
told over tea at some party, the black
brows of a man with a pitchfork
stuck through his ear, the delicate neck
of the cobbler’s son
poised for the decision. …

As always, happy reading!

Ananya Shrestha,
Asst. Editor.

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About artfuldodgewooster

Ohio based literary magazine, now over twenty years old, still in print, and gradually spreading across the digital world. Official Website:
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