Last night, I had my first poetry reading in the area since moving to Boston nearly a year ago. Though it still might have been premature, as I just really started getting out there in the poetry scene and making myself known, I think it was a good thing to do. I needed to remind myself of my passion and put myself among people who share my interests. I also needed the discipline of a show to write a couple of new poems.
For me to persist as a poet, I need to be surrounded by good poets and poetry, as well as a bit of affirmation from people I respect that I am not wasting my time. I also have to say I was really touched that people I only recently met came out to support my work. It gives me hope both as a human and an artist.
Right now, I am embarking on a new chapter of my life as a poet, one that makes me both excited and nervous. In the past, most of my poems have been about my family, my love affairs and the boys who broke my heart, and about the craft of writing itself. All good in their own right, but marked by a stubborn self-absorption that really no longer defines my character. Since working in Washington D.C. and going to graduate school, and being confronted on a daily basis with the enormity of havoc we've created in this world, I can no longer dwell too long on the supposed profundity of my small life. I wrote something a few months ago, and tacked it on the wall above my bed. It stated, "Inject more journalism into your poetry, and more poetry into your journalism." What I want for my poetry is for it to function as part art, part commentary, and a great part reporting on the sorry state of the world.
And we need that! Considering climate change: we are dealing with an unprecedented environmental calamity that threatens the long-term survival of not only more than half of the species we share this planet with, but our own species with extinction...possibly by the end of this century! Where are the paintings, the poetry, the rock 'n roll rantings to remind of this...to protest this? In the 60s and 70s of the last century, the social change that ignited progress on the fronts of feminism, civil rights, and the first environmental movement were fueled, and perhaps even incited, by the music and art scene of that generation. I am not the only one to wonder where the art is now opining our warming world and the wars abroad. Journalist and deep ecologist (and arguably our largest environmental icon), Bill McKibben, wondered the same thing...five years ago.
Unfortunately, not a lot has changed, and actually public opinion has turned so that most people do not believe climate change is happening at all, or that if it is, we humans are not responsible. I would like to do my part to address this, because the lack of public knowledge leads to a lack of political will, which dooms our children to a hot, crowded planet short on water, clean air, and food and saturated with oil spills.
I have come to realize that the best thing I can do is work through the medium of my strengths and talents, which is writing. I tried to turn to science and become somewhat of a scientist to save the world. But I am simply not a scientist, and the world has enough of those concentrating on this problem. What it needs now, is the artists to come out of the woodworks and address this issue with the powers of their pens and paintbrushes.
I know that part of the problem is that art is primarily self-reflection. And until we begin to see ourselves as part of the issue, or develop an empathy for it, it's hard to be motivated to the point of setting aside the time to paint or type. I'll admit even for my own poetry, it's hard too place words on what I feel or think about something as abstract in my mind as climate change. Even as I sit sweltering in my apartment, it's hard to believe we could just blink out. Species loss and exploding mountains are a bit easier as they are more tangible, so I am beginning with that. And even so, I admit I am still a character in these poems, that my perception pervades: the words "I" and "my" still rearing up, often. But it's a start, and still, we do need a human voice on these things, so I think it works.
Getting to the other half of my self-command, I think journalism sometimes is too dry and soulless in its interpretation of our global crisis. What happened to the old-fashioned narrative journalism that wasn't afraid to tell a compelling story and even relied on tricks of language, visual imagery, or even emotional appeal to paint the picture? We need more descriptive, poetic journalism. We need to prick the hearts of readers. Journalism has become so prudish, that we are afraid of truly translating the pathos and heartbreak of loss and death and degradation. Even the pictures are more censored...this needs to change. We need naked reporting, reminding our Internet-addled audience not only of the humanity of our subjects but our humanity as reporters/writers. Basically, we need more features stories that have the freedom to accomplish this...
I would love to collaborate with any writers/artists who are interested....let's get together and make a chapbook or zine on climate change, have an open mic for Haiti or Darfur...let's write lyrics and sing songs about the impending water wars so that the tunes get stuck in the heads of teenagers who will use them as ringtones on their cell phones and protest their parents prolific squandering. Let's mold the minds of this new generation. Let's invade this warming world with the passion of our poetry....letting the politicians and apathetic know we really do care too much for its beauty to just let it go without a fight.