I believe in the power of poetry; and I believe we can extend that power when we make strategic use of it in that very mixed blessing, the shadow land of technology and social networking. That is why I spend much of my valued time in these arenas and much effort supporting other writers and activists who are doing profoundly important work. I’m no longer able to storm the gates, but I can still pound the heck out of a keyboard.
After eight years, however, I find I’m losing my tolerance for those who use poetry and social networking – ostensibly to raise the community consciousness with regard to want and inequity – only to proceed to thoughtlessly undermine the care, hard work and long hours invested by others who actually do put the “active” in activism.
It is also one thing to use the tools of social networking to connect with family and friends, to form friendships based on affinity, and to earn our bread or to support those causes in which we believe. It’s quite another thing to do it as a narcissistic indulgence, especially when that indulgence is at the expense of people who need us to be – not self-concerned and histrionic – but measured voices that walk our talk in the daily play of living, working, spending, teaching (in the greater sense all good poets are teachers) and – yes! – social networking.
Poetry can be assertive and should be. If justice poetry, however, isn’t balanced and well-considered, if it isn’t complemented with right action and right living, it is the work of a poet who enjoys the sound of his or her own voice. It is in danger of devolving into an exercise of smug in the service of ego and sanctimony in the service of voyeurism.
If our compassion is all talk and no legs, it isn’t compassion at all. In the same vein, justice poetry needs teeth and its teeth come from actions consistent with values expressed. English poet and scientist, Jemma Borg, writes this in The Poet and the Planet, a feature article in the November 2015 issue of ARTEMISpoetry:
” . . . ‘art prepares us for thought’ and ‘thought prepares us for action’ (as the political activist and poet, Rukeyser wrote). There must be poetry, there must be activism; it is a continuum. So, poets can give society a guilty conscience, they can be legislators. But we also need people camped outside Shell to protest against drilling in the Arctic …”
© 2017, words and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
The recommended read for this week for children, Pizza, Pigs and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by Jack Prelutsky, named the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.
Pizza, Pigs and Poetry, How to Write a Poem is ideal for children grades 3-6. He engages by sharing funny stories, light poems and creative technique, not forms. This seems entirely perfect for encouraging – not discouraging – this age group. Fun and funny Pizza, Pigs and Poetry would make great summer reading – and writing – and is perfect for a birthday gift or a gift for some other occasion.
By shopping at Amazon through The Word Play Shop and using the book links embedded in posts, you help to support the maintenance of this site. Thank you! (Some book links will just lead to info about the book or poet/author and not to Amazon.)
The WordPlay Shop offers books and other tools especially selected for poets and writers.
THE WORDPLAY SHOP: books, tools and supplies for poets, writers and readers
LITERATURE AND FICTION oo Editor’s Picks oo Award Winners oo NY Times Best Sellers
We should never lose sight of the role of poetry in social change. In my out of print book “Poems, Parables & Prayers for the Third Millennium,” I refer to my poetry as a tool for change through the cultivation of ideas:
My job is not to garden but to spread wildflowers
over close-cropped and closely groomed landscapes.
My flowers are children, waiting for their season to bloom
That being said, we must never turn our backs on those who write out of self-indulgence. There are times when I too feel social media is creating, not just lost generation but a razed generation with social conscience and the need for self-reflection excised by consumerism and endless media onslaughts. Hopefully, however, their pursuit of poetry will entice them to awareness and social conscience.
Mocking self-made caricatures, like Trump, is acceptable because he put himself in the public eye to be worshipped. For the rest of us, however, maturity takes time. Yeats was an activist, Hemingway was not. Both contributed to our collective conscience.
Challenge, infuriate and even enrage readers. But I don’t ever want to say to them, “I want nothing to do with you because you don’t think deeply enough for me to engage.” Doing so, will always feel like fighting a losing battle, I acknowledge. We never know where wildflower seeds bloom and rarely see the ones we planted come to fruition. But every act is an act of faith that we will accomplish something. Keep acting in faith.
We fight for justice, freedom, peace and art.
LikeLiked by 1 person
But yes, I also believe in the power of poetry, if it is written artfully.
Jamie, hopefully there is room for all sorts of activism. Each form needs the others if the world is to be livable.
CONFESSION: I have come to a serious conclusion that I am that person, Jamie; that selfish person; all talk and very little walk. My walking is wrapped up in my own indulgences – notably music and singing, albeit much of the latter for charitable causes, but that is a very minor ‘walk’ in my view.
I watched the news last night. The tragedy of Mosul and the effects of a politically driven industrial war machine; of the industrial raping of the environment; of the collateral damage caused to those who have little or no voice. I am always questioning the purpose of my life and whether I should forsake my selfishness and become more of an activist and fight the sometimes overwhelming urge to retreat into my shell … but the only person who can answer these questions is me! So you don’t need to try.
As a final note, I look at some simple statistics, which might perhaps provide one measure of worthiness. Your ‘Poet By Day’ blog has 4,400 followers, which, if my memory serves me well enough, has dramatically increased in the four or five years I’ve know you. Mine has a mere 200 followers. Even when our strength fails us and tramping the streets is no longer an option, and we are left with the pen as our sword, then your example shines a light on how to do it; with magnanimity; with a generous and unselfish spirit; promoting other campaigns and campaigners; showcasing other artists, whose work shines more light on that cause of peace, sustainability and social justice. You are one of the few lights that shine on my path.