Friday, February 24, 2017

Moonlight Musings

How Can We Save the World with Poetry?

Short, obvious answer 1:

(a) Write it. (b) Communicate it. Do (b) as widely as possible, whether that means getting published in a book, an anthology, a literary magazine, posting to a blog, or sharing on facebook or twitter – or all of the above. We can hand out poems in the street. We can put them up as posters. We can shout them out at slams.

Short, obvious answer 2:
We can't. (I mean, really? Get a grip!)

Smart rat answer:
One poem at a time.

I think it's a bit like that old story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant (one holding the tail, another the trunk, another an ear...). All the above answers are partly right, and while I wouldn't say that all of them are wrong, they don't go far enough.

When I was 40 I believed that poetry could save the world. That was when I discovered my tribe. A friend took me to a poetry reading, and I saw that I wasn't isolated or a freak – there were all these other poets, acting as if making poems was a perfectly normal thing to do. (It was before the time when we could also find members of our tribe on the internet ... before there was an internet.) 

Listening to the poems, I heard that we all wanted a better world and had things to say about that. And that was the time when there was something of a boom in Australian poetry: many flourishing 'little magazines', lots of well-attended readings with dynamic young poets (I was older than most) and even a national Poets Union newly formed. It was easy to believe our words could move the world.

I wrote a lot of political poetry then – fiery, passionate stuff as a rule. So did we all. Little of mine has lasted. Too much fire, not enough objectivity. And probably not enough craft. Some rants make wonderful poems, but a lot don't. Also the particular issues and individuals are now in the past. 

Does the finite nature of political poetry mean we shouldn't attempt it? No, I don't think so. If it is effective at the time and for the purpose written, then it serves that purpose. No matter if it then has a longer shelf life or not. 

But how many such poems do succeed in serving their purpose, even in the short term? 

In some oppressed societies, revolutionary poetry becomes the voice of the people. When poets' words are considered so dangerous that their authors are sent to Gulags, or tortured and executed, it's a pretty good indication that the poetry is having an effect. To do so, it has to go viral. Even before the internet, there were ways that happened. 

Centuries ago, pamphlets were copied and passed from hand to hand. More recently, poems telling the truth about oppressive governments were read aloud secretly behind closed doors. We think about Madelstam, Neruda, Victor Jara.… And of course, that last name reminds us of the song-writers who helped bring change. Bob Dylan's recent Nobel Prize was as much for inspiring social awareness as for the poetics (a Nobel winner in Literature must satisfy both criteria). 

Dylan's songs have lasted so far. Is that only because of the extra dimension of music? No, I think it is also because he deals in the universal rather than the specific. 'You masters of war,' he says, not specifying which ones. 'A hard rain's gonna fall' – but he doesn't say where. He doesn't have to. We hear the words and know we're all in the same boat. And so it is with the great socio-political poetic utterances (without music) which have lasted. Eliot's 'hollow men' come to mind, and Yeats's ‘rough beast’ slouching 'towards Bethlehem to be born'. And Shakespeare's 'The quality of mercy is not strained ...' or, from the same play, 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?’

At present many are worried and fearful. We certainly all hope we'll never face another Nazi Germany or a new Stalinism! But even so, certain groups feel very threatened, even in countries we are used to thinking of as Democratic. America may be the most striking, immediate example, but it's not the only one. And I wonder about our brothers and sisters in countries where persecution and civil war are already daily facts of life. I suppose that few Arab poets write in European languages, so we remain ignorant of what they may be writing against their regimes. But some pieces in English do filter through, and are startlingly brave in their truthfulness. 

Some people think poets have a duty to write about socio-political issues. I don't know about that. If I want to write about my cat instead, I jolly well will, so there. And if I want to write a poem confronting the big issues of the day, I’ll do that too – not from duty but passion. It depends what's there to be written. But perhaps all people have some duty to acquaint themselves with what is happening in the world, and to try to counter injustice where they find it? Or if it's not a duty, might it be wisdom? If we ignore injustices, will they increase?

Perhaps I asked the wrong question to start with. Maybe I should have asked, 'How can poets (rather than poetry) save the world?' That's broader in scope and immediately becomes easier to answer. If we're poets, we know how to string words together so as to have impact. We can write! There’s no reason we have to stick to poetry when it comes to calling out injustice and defending the rights of the oppressed. A lot more people read prose. 

We can write letters to editors of newspapers, and make them so good that they'll get printed. We can write to our local political representatives, and make those letters so good that if they get read they might spark some action. (And we can phone up to make sure the letters are received and do get read.) Even more direct, we can write good emails. We can write or at least sign petitions. We are probably capable of speaking fluently too, when called for. 

Caveat: I'm not sure how effective it is to post one's opinions on facebook and twitter. There is the danger of preaching to the converted (we all tend to make friends with the like-minded). And there is the other danger of alienating people who have been your friends, who turned out not to be so like-minded after all. But, if you think these social media are good platforms, who am I to discourage you? I would suggest they might be places where poetry would serve best ... depending how outspoken the poetry, I guess. I was thinking that there may be times when points are best made subtly, and poetry could be a better medium for doing that.

I am not meaning to start a lot of heated diatribes in response to this post. You will all have your views about Trump, Clinton, Obama and the rest. Some of us are already writing poems about that and posting them to our blogs. Others of us are using poetry as a way to recover from such concerns and remind ourselves of the good things in our world. I think both are valid responses. But in your comments on this post, please focus on how we might use our writing to help improve our world, rather than on particular politicians we think could use a bit of improvement. 

It seems to my perception that most poets tend to be what we in Australia call 'small-l liberal' (because our Liberal Party with a capital-L is our right-wing, Conservative party). However, not all poets hold similar views. Some may not fall neatly into any narrow category. It's not safe to make assumptions.

I have not seen any nastiness in our community, although many have been greatly distressed by the USA election result and its aftermath. I think that's remarkable. It is very unlike what I see (sometimes) on facebook, where people are so moved by fear and disillusionment that some very inflammatory things have been said. Perhaps poets can help save the world by continuing to respect people's right to freedom of thought? By continuing to behave with care and kindness towards others? 

What I see amongst us here is ongoing respect for each other regardless of differing views and beliefs, and nurturing of each other when that seems needed. We write our poems honestly, and let them speak for us as to our opinions, spiritual leanings, etc. I guess if I wanted to take issue with things said in someone else's poem, I might write one of my own to express a counter-view, and leave it at that.

So what about the poetry itself? And what about the questions I first asked? 

I don't think any of us can have an effect all by ourselves. (Dylan is exceptional. And even he needed the masses to embrace his words.) And I don't think poets combining in numbers can necessarily do it either. But I think we can be one group, among others, raising our voices for what we believe in. I think it takes all kinds of people, poets included, and that by doing our bit in our way we can help bring about the world we all want (even though we may have different ideas of how to get there). 

I think there are many things poets can do, some of them not solely restricted to poets. And if there is a chance that our poetry might have an influence for good, then yes indeed, let’s keep writing and communicating it. Yes, certainly let’s communicate it as widely as we can. And let’s make sure we write it as brilliantly, beautifully and powerfully as we can!

What do you think? Have I left out any ways we might try? Is it all hopeless anyway? Or do we have a voice? What about you personally? Are you going to write to cheer the world up? Or denounce its wrongs? Or both? (Or neither?)

Remember when you were starting out, and you thought that if just one of your poems could move just one person, it would be worth it? The chances are that there'll be a lot more than just one (poem or person). Is that still worth it, to perhaps have a smaller effect, not the whole world but a bit of it? If many other poets are doing the same, as we know they are, will it all add up to enough? And if it doesn't, is it still worth it to reach even a few?

Maybe the only person your poetry will save is yourself. How many of us write through grief, illness, depression, marriage break-ups, and even despair at the state of the world? How many of us get through such trials with the help of our writing? (Me for one!) Isn't that in itself worth doing? Or is it only a starting point?

Some of the pictures used are subject to copyright. The guitar picture was made available through a Creative Commons licence. The image of the earth is in the public domain.The other photos are mine.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Nostalgia

“Nostalgia is a seductive liar.”— George Ball


“Every act of rebellion expresses nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.”— Albert Camus

“I was right when I said I’d never look back. It hurts too much, it drags at your heart till you can’t ever do anything else except look back.”— Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind

“Moments never stay, whether or not you ask them, they do not care, no moment cares, and the ones you wish could stretch out like a hammock for you to lie in, well, those moments leave the quickest and take everything good with them, little burglers, those moments, those hours, those days you loved the most.”— Catherine Lacey, Nobody Is Ever Missing

      Midweek Motif ~ Nostalgia

The word “nostalgia” comes from two Greek roots, nostos meaning ‘return home’ and algia ‘longing’. However neither poetry nor politics birthed the term, rather it came from ‘medicine’. In the seventeenth century nostalgia was considered as a curable disease, like a common cold.
 Nostalgia is a longing for a Place as well as for a Time.

We are ‘back to the good old days’ then. The feeling is almost, past was ‘Paradise’ compared to the ‘Fallen’ present. Is that so?

But who can deny that we keep a tender, gentle feeling for the long past as we age? Shortcomings of the past find our forgiving eyes. Time distance has a role to play may be.

Whether good or bad, we are dealing today with long past. Let’s weave our words with the thread of deep yearning for the bygone days of our experiences.

Yesterday all my troubles….
by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be.
There’s a shadow hanging over me.
Oh yesterday came suddenly.

Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

by Billy Collins

Remember the 1340’s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
Marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
Of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farries for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.

The 1790’s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
Time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

The Blade of Nostalgia
by Chase Twichell

When fed into the crude, imaginary
machine we call the memory,

the brain’s hard pictures
slide into the suggestive
waters of the counterfeit.

They come out glamorous and simplified,

even the violent ones,
even the ones that are snapshots of fear.

May be those costumed,
clung-to fragments are the first wedge

nostalgia drives into our dreaming.

May be our dreams are corrupted
right from the start: the weight

of apples in the blossoms overhead.

Even the two thin reddish dogs
nosing down the aisles of crippled trees,
digging in the weak shade

thrown by the first flowerers,
snuffle in the blackened leaves
for the scent of a dead year.

Childhood, first love, first loss of love-

the saying of their names
brings an ache to the teeth
like that of tears withheld.
                           (The rest is here)



 Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—

(Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Fear)

Monday, February 20, 2017


This week, my friends, we are privileged to enjoy some breathtaking poems by our very own staff member, Sumana Roy, who creates lovely prompts for us at Midweek Motif. I have been gathering her poems up like buttercups over the winter, and now there is a veritable garden of beauty for us to wander through. Sumana lives in India, and writes at SUMANAR / LEKHA. Sumana also writes beautiful translations of the poems of Tagore at her second site, SONAR TORI. Let's heat up a cup of chai, and draw our chairs in close. We don't want to miss a word.

Sumana: Thank you so much Sherry for featuring these poems of mine at Poets United. Feeling so honored. Poetry prompts at various sites are my constant source of inspiration. Some prompts force words out of me.

One such was Elizabeth Crawford’s Creativity Challenge Day 2. She chose the word 'Love' and ended saying, “Remember, we are reaching out to a world that needs to know it is loved and cherished.” Shall I say the poem wrote itself contemplating on this last sentence of hers? 

I’ll garden and tend
a few words
for you only.

Let me ignite
a spark of love
with the flint of words
that I have.

Or I’ll be the crust
and bear the pain
as my seedling words burst forth
shooting up for a sky, a sun.

I might even be the night
but I’ll write my love
in the words of stars and moon
only for you.

Or I’ll let my words be the fire flies
weaving dream by their dance
in your thirsty eyes
for a glint of light.

Sherry: Oh my goodness, but your words take me away, swooping about with the fireflies, my friend!

Sumana: It’s very important to grow, with much care, the words of love, very rare in today’s world of expletives; in the explosion of wrath and anger, the promise of warmth, forbearance, succor and space, so much needed in a relationship, is being blown away. Love is the only emotion where nothing is negative; even in darkness it helps see the twinkling light above. It can be cultivated to grow. It so often reminds me of a gardener and his hard work.

‘This Poem Is’ is another prompt-oriented poem. It was written for Sanaa’s Prompt Nights where she wanted poems or fictions based on the concept of gender, and also for Elizabeth’s Creativity Challenge Day 5 where the word for the day was ‘Meaning’ as in value. 

THIS POEM IS.........

This poem is a color, a gender and a meaning.

This poem is a tiny bloom with a color.
This poem is the upbringing of a girl.
This poem is a magnifying glass looking for a meaning.

This poem is born in fire and darkness,
but it has a will to drift in the breeze like fragrance.
It wishes to fling away its pink hue to the blue sky.
It is the core of all tints, shades and tones.
This poem is a tiny bloom with a color.

This poem is an open hearth furnace.
It is a story of heat to remove impurities.
This poem is suffocation itself and all devouring.
It knows too well how to melt iron and free will.
This poem is the upbringing of a girl.

This poem is a pair of curious eyes.
It is a hunt for the essence of all objects.
This poem never tires and has the strength of steel.
The poem doesn’t believe in hindrance.
This poem is a magnifying glass looking for meaning.

This poem is a fragrant flower
with the soul of all colors.
This poem is the magnificent life of a strong willed girl.
The poem is a quest for finding love and life’s meaning.

Sherry: I love this poem so much. It is a wonder! The upbringing of a girl, the soul of color, and the quest for meaning. Life - and poetry -  doesn't get more meaningful than that.

Adhik Kadam and his Borderless World Foundation

Sumana: I wished for a narrative touch for this poem and felt Hannah’s Boomerang Metaphors to be perfect for the theme.

Adhik Kadam, a young social entrepreneur from India, is this poem’s backdrop. He is the President of Borderless World Foundation and runs four homes for girls who lost their parents in earthquake, violence and natural death in Jammu and Kashmir. He has devoted his life to this cause in the violence-torn valley. His foundation has more than 140 girls at the four centers, and can support at least 1000+ girls in the community. He was caught and beaten black and blue, locked up, threatened by the terrorists 17 times.

The poem celebrates the indomitable spirit of the courageous yet victimized Kashmiri girls who came up triumphant against all odds, once again renewed their faith in life, and blossomed in the sweetest ways making happiness their destination: courtesy Adhik Kadam.

Sherry: I love hearing about individuals who see a need and devote their lives to meeting it. What an inspiring story! Thanks for making us aware, Sumana. Humans can be so wonderful!

I have an alone path
of words
that opens up
inside me
when all noises die down.
The light is either my own
or taken from others
who have gone before.
I have now
all the time of the world
to walk forever.
I am glad
I have no hurry
to reach a destination.
I let my brown leaves
have their autumn fall,
and am ever ready
for those winter days
when they will hibernate.
Even if no spring ever shows up
I have still
so many trails
others have left for me
to enjoy the walk.

Sherry: I love that "alone path of words" that opens inside of you. How apt!

Sumana:  What I actually intended to write in "Path" was about the peace within oneself and the means to reach there. In life there must be a destination, journey and a path. Peace IS my destination. However everyday happenings, negative vibes and rat-race would not let us be there. If you have a roof over your head, provisions for square meals a day and enough time for yourself is there anything more one could desire? 

Nicholas left a comment on my poem, saying the lure of the carrot at the end of the stick is all that keeps so many billions around the world trudging towards the promise of a spring that does not come. It’s good to stop and let the lure of the carrot at the end of the stick pass. It’s useless to squander away time and energy in this race. It was not until I retired from my service and it was a voluntary retirement that I had some ‘alone time’ for myself. I try to fill most of the time with words. Sometimes my own words, sometimes others’, and enjoy the healing effect with gratitude. "Path" originates from this space. 

Sherry: It is beautiful, both poem and the space from which it came.

As the day draws to a close
The Ganga* loses herself in the sea
Poetry words blunt into prose
The night writes the stars for me

The hawk-eye is fixed on the mice
Worms shift to beaks from the bark
Flowing water hardens into ice
I’ve fireflies to write in the dark

I am glad that I was born
I am glad that I shall die
I am glad that my path was of thorn
I will never ask Thou why

*The Ganges

Sherry: Sigh. The perfection of these words takes my breath away. I especially love the deep faith in "I will never ask Thou why."

Sumana: The poem "Acceptance" is my way of dwelling on Death. This is one truth one cannot but accept. A calm resignation before crossing the bar is an absolute necessity. Accepting the gift of this life with all its blooms and thorns, Faith in God & Afterlife, for the believers, and a life lived well and without regret for the non-believers might help the passage to be smooth. I used images regarding these in the poem. I wished to see how the word elicits responses from our poets so I used it as my prompt word in one of our Midweek Motifs. 

I also strongly believe that ‘acceptance’ is never accepting the unacceptable like what the world at present is being exposed to. But strangely enough one might not find as many voices necessary to register protest against atrocities. Acceptance is a broad shouldered word and can provide shelter to the needy.

Sherry: I so admire your worldview, Sumana, and am happy that you write and spread your wise and positive message. In closing, I would like to share your poem "Gifts", because reading it is a gift to anyone who reads it.


If I could only gift
my loved ones
a little piece of full moon
that would never wane,
in a little bottle
to be kept on the table and cherished.

If I could only gift
my loved ones
a forever Spring
with never ending blooms
in a clay pot
to be hung on the veranda wall.

It may sound absurd
yet they are my gifts of word
to my loved ones
living in every corner of the world.

Sherry: What a glorious showering of gifts your poems are, from your beautiful heart, Sumana. Thank you so much for the beauty you have shared with us today, and for your contribution at Poets United, which we appreciate very much.

We hope you enjoyed these offerings, my friends. And do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!