Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
I’ve been thinking about all the conversations about whether or not poetry “matters” in this culture and thinking maybe it’s a silly question. We have a country on the verge of civil war with a racist Congress that kisses corporate ass, is intent on setting women’s reproductive rights back to the nineteen fifties and returning to the country to pre-Roosevelt impoverishment. We have continuing war with Islamism that is partly our fault and getting worse. Fifty percent of the electorate is too stupid to participate in a democracy. In this context, a question like, “Does poetry matter” seems laughable. I can only say that poetry stimulates imagination, a quality we are desperately in need of and which seems to be absent in the halls of power, where the same mistakes are made over and over again.
Dear Congress: everywhere art and science are reaching out to you. Great poems, films, paintings, sculptures, alternative energy sources and great accomplishments in surgery and healing. These are offerings of love to a stricken world. But what are you doing? You spend most of your time trying to undermine these efforts. You fear the part of your mind that knows they’re right. You closed off the human in yourselves. Your imaginations have been crushed under the weight of greed. You are drowning men refusing the life preservers being thrown to you. And you want to take all of us down with you.
HUMILITY: not humiliation but the opposite.The acceptance of the self as is. Owning my projections as soon as or immediately after I have them. Mindfulness as much as possible. The acknowledgment of the difficulty of doing things like making poetry. Beginner’s mind each time. As if I’d never written before. As if stepping off a precipice blindfolded. A steady sanding away of everything that divides me from everyone else. Leading with the heart. Leading with Thou. Oh, hard hard to do, but necessary as water. Compassion for the snake-brained man who carries me through landscapes of dread but must be given a binky when done and put in his bed.
How hard to forgive the self, a process from which all other kinds of forgiveness follow. I’m thinking of the things I’ve done for which I’ve taken responsibility but I’ve carried long after the person I harmed has let it go. The process of self-forgiveness also involves acknowledging things I’ve not yet considered that might have hurt people: my emotional unavailability, my failure to notice another’s love, my insensitivity. We can’t blame ourselves so much for our lack of awareness, and only by becoming aware can we even acknowledge it. How could I do such a thing? I say. So much of the harm we do we do out of our own brokenness — anger that properly belongs to another time and circumstance unloaded on a loved one, fear of being trapped in love and breaking someone’s heart, or, the opposite, falling blindly into love and failing to notice the other person doesn’t feel the same way. These are not “mortal sins,” say, along the lines of the politician who knows his decision to help his friends in business will destroy other people’s lives. I’m talking about the everyday stumblings of being human, acts committed out of desperation and ignorance. And the greatest act of self-forgiveness is to be honest about how we feel. If we are aware of how things affect us it becomes more difficult to hurt others. Some of us drank to cover this up. Thus that phrase that can be found in most religions: treat others as you wish to be treated. I have no problem with that, even if the religions are no longer capable of its exemplification.
Ain’t nobody perfect. One praises, one damns, the obsidian fallen angel has white wings, the milk-glass angel a core of snakes. Don’t be honking your horn at the chariot stalled in the breakdown lane. Drink sweet water and rise.
copyright 2015 Doug Anderson