The poet has questions against futility

I’ve been teaching, as you all know. I’ve been trying to keep my head on straight, resisting the reactionary, trying my best to keep in perspective the kind of work that has always been necessary for me to continue doing.

This is hard, to say the least.

I am trying my best to not let the echo chamber of social media detract or distract me from my work. I am not engaging a lot of people in virtual space about politics. I am trying to stay focused.

I’ve been having wonderful discussions with my students, in the classrooms, before and after classes, in university event spaces. What I have always appreciated about my position is the ability to move back and forth between spaces. Perhaps it goes without saying that my spaces are progressive spaces, where work, where the work and value systems of my colleagues are aligned with my value systems.

Yesterday evening in Pinay Literature class, I thought I would make more complex the already-complex discussions we have been engaged in. We talked about decolonization. Specifically, we talked about decolonization in art and literature. Given what we can define as political decolonization, the dismantling of colonial institutions of power, given the existence of colonial mentalities that hinder the formerly colonized from becoming truly liberated, what can literature and art do? Can it do anything? And anything it can do, is any of that good enough?

I ask these questions knowing there are no simple, easy answers. I reassure my students that I know the enormity of these questions, but that it is indeed important to reflect on, to be critical of what we are constantly being bombarded with in mass media and social media, to discuss in a place where discussion is encouraged, where ideas and definitions are nudged and even pushed.

Some things my students put forth were Theater of the Oppressed, and Liberation Theology, as opportunities and spaces for people to practice decolonization, to critically examine (and expose!) hegemony and our own consent. We talked about Social Justice as helping souls, radically giving ourselves to others; Social Justice as confronting those structures and institutions which perpetuate the people’s poverty and oppression. We talked about the importance of bringing indigenous epistemologies to the forefront, being critical of the popular tendencies to romanticize indigeneity.

I am aware that many folks in social media are railing against academics, against classroom work that is perceived as having nothing to do with the real world, that is derided as nothing but self-indulgent and abstract talk. But I am also acutely aware that those criticisms are flawed, precisely because of the importance of praxis. As an educator, I want to do my part and then some, in bringing up critically thinking, self-reflective, conscientious young people, who don’t drink the Kool-Aid of knee-jerk anti-intellectualism and knee-jerk binary thinking.

As a poet though, is my work good enough: Is writing a poem, is writing a book, good enough. What does that do. Like any other cultural production, poetry can be appropriated. It can be ignored and dismissed. In its concentration on language and form, it can be deemed inaccessible, and hence, irrelevant. The necessary solitary time that the writer must take in order to do that work of writing, revising, editing, submitting can also be deemed acts of individual self-indulgence, in favor of individual accomplishment, hence, careerist. The desire to have our words amplified is also seen as selfish, ego-serving. If I were to internalize this criticism, I would believe poetry is an act of futility.

I believe these are my real questions: I had been wondering whether it is good enough for teaching to be my praxis. But more painfully, I am wondering whether it is good enough for poetry to be my praxis.


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