Several years ago, Kim Addonizio wrote “everyday I am both terrified and amazed to be here.” I was a junior in college when I first read that declaration and it seems to have resonated more and more every year since.
Lately though, the balance is increasingly being tipped toward terrified: the Texas Education Board’s decision to literally revise history textbooks to please right right lobbyist, Arizona’s apparent desire to become an apartheid state (in regards to its noxious immigration law as well as its anti-ethnic studies policy,) the fact that BP ruined/runs the Gulf Coast, so forth and so on. (I dare you to make a list of your own.)
And then this morning, I read about Israel’s attack on the humanitarian flotilla. I can’t explain my reaction except to say that something inside me broke. Maybe it was a hairline fraction or a fault line that’s been threatening to tremble for awhile, but I went from being shocked to outraged to empowered (I started looking up plans for rallies and plan on attending one in Times Square tomorrow) to exhausted to helpless. I couldn’t get anything done. I would try to read and re-read some of my favorite books and I wouldn’t make it ten minutes. I would try writing and couldn’t get past the first sentence without wanting to cry.
I should confess that I tend to get highly emotional when I’m in a creative stretch and since I’ve been writing everyday and will continue to do throughout the summer, my emotions have gone from technicolor to HDTV. But I think it runs deeper than that. Today was about more than me being sad or weepy for no good reason. It was about me sitting at my desk and wondering if there was in fact a place for my poetry (or any poetry) in this world? If people are doing what they should be doing (reading as much current events publications as possible, rallying in the streets, volunteering,) would they have time to read the imperfect poems I’m constructing?
Recently a person asked me if my poetry was inspiring. Without a pause, I said that it was not. I stand by that self-assessment and yet can’t help but (from time to time) wish that I could write a masterful poem that provided some kind of answer, however partial, however complete: a poem that amazed more than terrified, a poem that answered at least one of the impossible questions we’ve been posed with, a poem that said “Here it is. Here we are. Now, walk this way.”
The post was supposed to be about literary escapism but it appears to have gone in a very different direction. That’s fine with me. It’s not my intention to get encouragement from you or anyone about my work and this world. Rather, I think that it’s our obligation as artists to pause for a moment and honestly consider where we are in this world and what our work has to do with it.
I’m not going to write a poem about Gaza tomorrow. At least, not that I know of. I will find a way to write to that tragedy through metaphors and veils and words tucked behind more words but it will take time and it will most likely happen months or years from now. All I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that I’m amazed and terrified and trying.