I’m starting this blog because, to be frank (as is my way), I’ve got a book of poems (my first) coming out in the spring, and I’m aware that I need to become more involved in the literary world in order to get anyone to want to read it. It’d be nice if a poet could simply write poems and leave them to find their way in the world, but that doesn’t work any better for poems than it does for children. And it’d be nice if, like fiction and non-fiction writers, poets could leave the marketing to an agent, but agents have to put food on the table like anyone else, and there’s not a lot of grocery money in poetry, I’m afraid. Or any kind of money, for that matter. Which raises the question, why write it?
Why, to save the world, of course.
Which is, of course, silly in the extreme. Poetry, as everyone knows, makes nothing happen. Or does it? Is the idea that “poetry makes nothing happen” only an excuse to allow poets to avoid having to say anything that might get them in trouble? After all, attempting to save the world will by necessity cause one to come up against the power structure (political, financial, ecclesiastic) that profits from the status quo. I think it could well be just an excuse. I’m willing, anyway, to try it out. That is, to write something that tries to make something happen.
And I’m gratified to read that there are some folks, at least, who are hungry for someone to take such a chance. Alison Powell, in her article “Sing the Body Politic,” writes in her review of I Sing the Body Politic: History as Prophecy in Contemporary American Literature, (ed. Peter Swirski, McGill University Press, 2009) that “the collection reminds us of the difficulty of writing about politics, but also the importance; we should be grateful to those admirable artists who are able to pull it off.” I find that mildly encouraging (whether or not I pull it off remains to be seen). Cartoonist Stephanie McMillan, in her essay “Artists: Raise Your Weapons,” goes even further. She practically berates American consumerist culture for falling for art that “entertains us and makes us giggle with faux joy as it slowly sucks our brains out through our eye sockets.” She goes on:
The system exerts tremendous pressure to create art that is not only apolitical but anti-political. When the dominant culture spots political art, it sticks its fingers in its ears and sings, “La la la!” It refuses to review it in the New York Times or award it an NEA grant. Political art is vigorously snubbed, ignored, condemned to obscurity, erased. If it’s too powerful to make disappear, then it is scorned, accused of being depressing, doom-and-gloom, preachy, impolite, and by the way, your drawing style sucks. Also by the way, you can’t make a living if your work’s not vacuous, cynical and therefore commercially viable, so go starve under a bridge with your precious principles.
We’re taught that it’s rude to be judgmental, that to assert a point of view violates the pure, transcendent and neutral spirit of art. This is mind-fucking bullshit designed to weaken and depoliticize us. In these times, there is no such thing as neutrality — not taking a stand means supporting and assisting exploiters and murderers.
Let us not be the system’s tools or fools. Artists are not cowards and weaklings — we’re tough. We take sides. We fight back.
And so…into the fray.