I was teaching a class on communication the other day, which is one of my favorite classes to teach. It’s a simple class about social cues, reading nonverbal cues, etc. There’s a point each time I teach the class, where I tell the group, ‘It’s not really what you say, it’s your presence people are going to remember.’ This is a strange truth and strikes me each time because I believe words matter. I also believe in our every day interactions, we don’t always remember what was said, but our presence (the way we made someone feel; the imprint we left) does. One of the distinctively unique aspects of ‘the poem,’ is that is is essentially the free space for language. We evaluate whether a poem is good to us or not based on almost the same principle. There is no objective criteria or checklist on what makes a poem brilliant. In writing, there is nothing quite like it. It is simply the imprint, the feeling you are left with that attaches a reader to a poem. Some could argue that this is what makes reading and evaluating a poem a sort of ‘political act.’ The freedom that allows one to evaluate anything really shapes it as political. I’ve always felt that when one sits down to write a poem, he or she is (without even trying) engaging in a political act. At times, the politics are overt. Others not. Any time a poem works where the speaker is interrogated by his or her own engagement with the world around them, there is politics involved. A writer’s job is to ‘look hard,’ and ‘keep looking,’ at the world around them. Sometimes that brings one to writing a poem about walking a long a beach to a political level that is as high as writing a poem about a political scandal. For me, the personal is always political. As humans, there are going to be times when our private lives collide with troubling moments historically. In much of what I write, I am trying to make sense of something ‘someone’ or ‘myself,’ are provoked by. Typically this is where a public or private life or thought meets something that sparks a,’ fire,’ or ‘wonderment,’ or ‘disgust or distaste.’ Often, as the writer, the idea invests itself in me emotionally until I give it voice (sometimes that’s from multiple perspectives) until I find the one I find to be the most curious. When I’m writing something, I’m curious about it. If I’m not, I typically cannot complete it. The wonder, I guess, is are or will other people be just as curious about this subject matter? Sometimes there is a conclusion and sometimes the lack of a conclusion speaks more. The poem is a brilliant canvas painted abstractly or very concrete to its subject matter. In both cases, it remains divisive. The world will be the judge of what it is trying to articulate and that it goes down in history as one of the longest, withstanding ways to assert one’s opinion. When I was younger, I grappled with wanting to write ‘politically charged poems,’ about politically charged events; however, I’ve grown to recognize the art of writing poetry is often just political in it’s nature and the politics are shaded into the details of being a human being in a world full of institutions and systems. I have been for days attempting to organize my thoughts and create (as I always do) work to try to make sense of what is happening in the world, with the tiny exception that the world feels pretty chaotic right now. The systems and institutions that we deal with going through our every day adult lives are pretty much pushing other things to the background and demanding center stage. I, I think, similar to many people feel this is a pivotal time in history and in our democracy. I am in no way comparing today to the events of the past or the holocaust (although study history and it does have a way of repeating itself). I find myself thinking things all the time thinking about books like The Diary of Anne Frank and thinking, “I always said I would be on the side of history that would never allow atrocities like this to happen again.’ Then, I turn on the news and hear crowds chanting ‘hate speech,’ or our president spewing hateful rhetoric, or sitting in a room with someone and hearing them state something that is factually inaccurate and created by hate filled propaganda, being quiet so not to ruffle feathers. Writing a blog post, in itself, is not answering the question. I know what side of history I stand on. My whole life and reason for being is because I want everyone to understand and know they have a voice. I not only want them to understand this. I want them to use it. I understand there are people who disagree with my beliefs and in this country, it’s you’re right to use that voice. I, however, do not want to be found on the side of history that ever used my freedom of expression to silence somebody else’s voice. One of my favorite parts of starting this blog, which I did not expect, was that every so often someone likes what I write and lets me know. Many of those individuals have been fellow poets or bloggers and I love visiting their sites or blogs and reading what they are thinking about or creating, which I almost always love (although I really never use the ‘like’ button), which I should because I love getting that invitation to check out someone else’s work, so if you’ve stopped by and said ‘hi,’ I pretty much guarantee, I’ve enjoyed your work. Moving back to the original topic, I know if I want to be on the right side of history, the only way is through action. It’s not enough to say, “I wrote about it,” because let’s be real, there isn’t a lot of power in a little poetry blog. That being said, I’ve been reading blogs and I’m always reading poems, and this is a time for all artists out there to do their thing. I’ve heard more news anchors and columnists quote famous poets and speeches lately, then I have in my lifetime. Why? Because in times of great importance, art has just the right warmth and power to awaken the dawn of spring. We are in deep need of a spring. If we want to know about where we would have stood in history yesterday, we must align ourselves to the people making history today. We must align ourselves with their causes and as writers and artists, ask important questions, create, and document. In order to do that though, I feel it important to live it. As someone who endured the constant questioning of my voice, my strength, my abilities growing up, I challenge myself every day to be the person who stood behind someone and encouraged, taught, and mentored every individual to use the voice that was given to him, her, they, them.. I can’t think of a moment I enjoy more, than the first time I really hear one of the kids I work with (who typically come in pretty broken in regards to their voice) assert themselves. Even better, is the look on their own face when they recognize what they’ve just done. I revel when I hear them correct one another for inappropriate use of words (often hate rhetoric) that nobody taught them dismisses another person’s identity. I will say the past few days (years) have been so challenging. I have struggled to find a space to talk about how discouraging it is not only that individuals have come out of wherever they’ve been hiding and began spewing hateful rhetoric into the public arena and that so many people do not even know it’s going on or care. The world is more invested in game shows and pop culture than it is in the fact that our democracy’s core values are in crisis. It’s the same frustration that comes from people’s ambivalence to the fact that our planet is in serious trouble. The fact that it’s Amazon Prime Day gets more attention then these issues just guts me. I know writing on my blog, talking to people I see using plastic silverware in our cafeteria when there’s perfectly fine silverware, asking people I know to try to bring their own bags to the grocery store, informing someone when he or she engages in hateful language what he or she is stating and how it can be harmful, and teaching classes on asserting oneself, and how people remember us by the presence we left them, not always with the exact words we say…it’s a start. I also know there’s so much more to be done. In my quest to find some poem that captured some of what I’m feeling, I ran across this poem I forgot I wrote. I believe the initial inspiration for the poem was a letter that someone I was working with received and refused to open. The individual talked about what might be in the letter all the time, but he or she never opened it. I wrote the poem imagining all the things that could be in that letter (good and bad). When I read the poem today, I saw it differently. I thought about how many people today aren’t opening the daily mail. They’re not opening the letters. I began to think about the importance of opening the mail instead of ruminating about what’s in it. If we all did that and were pro-active, I imagine we’d have a different world.
Who knows what will happen when all is ripped open
anything could be inside? Dreadful mistakes
Or never ending beauty. Who knows
you might find invisible handprints on your thighs
Or reminders of touches that have escaped you.
There may be permanent rest for your feet
Or they may be someone walking all over you.
Who knows? What might drip from the envelope
Tears, or metaphors, or confessions of sins committed-
You just don’t know. There could be conflict
between the pages of paper or a long distance prisoner
Calling to tell you he is once again a free man.
There could be a suicide, an elective death,
A loneliness that silently cries out with the pretense of no despair.
It’s just not known. There could be a father
Spewing vile filled hate at a mother
who is raising his children or it could be his confession
He never wanted a child in the first place.
There could be lots of staring and observations,
Solo thoughts disclosed at the hope of inviting you in
Pr a wicked plan to try to methodically capture you in hateful rhetoric.
There could be secretions of mind draining content and solitude
Spoken carefully from a place that lets nothing in.
It may be big, strong, firm, bold, and lost long
or be very staccato. It could be long, flowing,
Soft like the skirt of a girl whose dancing in wondrous emotion.
Whatever is inside, I want you to open it.
I need you to read it and let it say something to you.
Even if that being said says nothing,
You still will have learned something
The mind is a muscle, but it’s also an excellent tool
You might start seeing something
You could never have,
If you left this envelope sit, sealed.
What you never chose to see
Could be the one thing the world needed to hear
To stop the unspeakable from being spoken.