A Response to Suheir Hammad’s “What I Will”

by Justin Walker

I. Well aware that every generation has likely thought the world was coming to an end during its time & that perhaps this kind of panic is another word for “civilization,” I have to say: I do believe the world is on fire. From the turned backs of governors against the people in Wisconsin & Ohio to the government guns being turned on people in Libya to the hardened faces I see when I walk to work in Newark to the faces among the wreck in Japan & back again: people are suffering in a way that seems to have outdistanced our understanding of the word “suffering.” Perhaps only “madness” is the word for our world, or “bedlam.”
II. But what use is it to give in to bedlam? Who exactly would that help? And so, I try not to give in. When I walk into my classroom & see the faces of my 9th & 12th grade students & hear them reading Dickens & Morrison out loud & asking questions — good, deep-hearted questions — I answer them smiling. I answer them & whisper to myself that “this is not bedlam.”
III. I’m grateful to have happened across Suheir Hammad’s performance of “What I Will” at TED. (Click the link to watch the video.) The poem which begins “I will not dance to your war drum. / I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drum. / I will not dance to that beat. / I know that beat. / It is lifeless.” speaks to a rejection not only of war (in all of its forms) but to a rejection of that “panic” as well; the kind of “panic” that seizes the mind and the body & renders them useless. Her poem reminded me that when I sit down at my desk each morning & write my way into this world, perhaps each line is just another way of saying “This heartbeat is louder than death.”

2 responses to “A Response to Suheir Hammad’s “What I Will”

  1. Thank you, more than you know.

  2. Man, seriously. Thank you for posting this. Thank you.

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