In My Next Life, I Want to Be Able to Watch Newshounds Interview CEOs and Then Write Things Like, “What By Being Not Is—Is Not By Being.”*

In my next life, I want to return as the poet Robert Creeley. (Of course, it would be more convenient if he first departs this life. He’s now 86.) Blinded in one eye (left) at age 5, he seems to have compensated for a lack of complete eyesight with an amazingly sharp verbal acuity. One critic has described him as having a “unique brand of vigilant minimalism.”

And how!

Here’s part of his poem, “The Friends”:

I want to help you
by understanding what
you want me to
understand by saying so.

I listen. I had
an ego once upon
a time—I do still
for you listen to me.

Let’s be very still.
Do you hear? Hear
what, I will say when-
ever you ask me to listen.

I thought of Creeley, and that poem, which appears in Pieces (Scribner’s, 1969, pp. 44-41), not long ago while listening to Wolf Blitzer, the CNN anchorman on his show, “The Situation Room.” He was interviewing the CEO of the New Orleans hospital where the nearly four dozen bodies of patients were found after Hurricane Katrina.

Blitzer, veteran big-league TV newshound that he is, immediately sought to bore into his interviewee with a pointed opening question about what news reports were saying went on at that hospital in the aftermath of the hurricane.

And for more than a minute, the CEO ignored the question while he delivered a paean to his hospital staff and company and the hospital chain’s post-hurricane performance and so on. Not until his closing words did he return to Blitzer’s question by noting that all he knew was what he was also hearing from news reports.

It was a skilled performance. Had I been grading him as I have others in years past as I joined my own CEO clients in Edwin Newman’s New York mock TV studio to teach them how to handle media interviews, I would have given him an “A.” It was a boffo performance. When it was over, he did not have to say, as John Spencer’s Leo McGarry had to admit on The West Wing the other night, “I accepted his premise, didn’t I?”

But when I finished watching it, I felt used. By the CEO. By Blitzer who, after all, let the executive equivocate long past the point when he should have interrupted. By today’s Orewellian doublespeak world of professional non-communication.

Back when I was training executives to perform well in such a world, I justified—rationalized?—my involvement by arguing that there’s nothing amiss in helping people who must swim with the sharks avoid taking the bait.

But that’s hindsight, And poet Creeley has something to say about hindsight, too, as he closes “The Friends”:

The “breathtaking banalities”
one only accomplishes in
retrospect. Hindsight—

they call it—like the
backend of a horse. Horse’s
ass, would be the way.

So don’t apply to be Robert Creeley in the next life. I’ve already signed up.

(For more about Creeley, go here: Robert Creeley (1926- )

*From Creeley’s “Zero,” Pieces, p. 33-34.

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