What is the role of the poet “in these times,” continuing thoughts

Friends, we are living in terrible times, bereft of wisdom and compassion, corrupt to the core, incompetent, irresponsible, morally reprehensible. It is a vile time.

I want to put it out there, amplify something that Solmaz Sharif discussed at our Poets & Writers panel on Poetry and Empire. I don’t believe I want to support any poetry that is sanctioned by The State. I don’t believe I want a poetry associated institutional core values of white supremacy and disaster capitalism.

You may argue with me that as Americans, we are all complicit. Sure.

But I also believe that our reliance upon The State for legitimacy makes us passive, ineffectual.

I don’t have a lot of answers; I have a shit ton of questions. Can we meaningfully resist? Can our art, our words be a part of meaningful resistance? In the very recent past, I was so resolute, as an educator and an author, on the side of social justice and wisdom. These things I bring into my classroom on the regular. I sense that it is all very heavy and intense for my students, but it’s crucial that these discussions happen, even if it is just bringing all of these (for now) unanswerable questions into the open.

But I am also feeling like nothing that I can do is enough. As an educator, an author, a citizen. I am turning to Carlos Bulosan constantly, not just because he is my current syllabus item, but because I don’t know any other Filipino American authors who write about these concerns of social responsibility. How to be, what it means to a be citizen, an American of Filipino descent who is a writer.

Anytime I’ve put it out there in writing what I believe our responsibilities are to our own communities, anytime I’ve been openly critical of how we perpetuate colonial mentality, anytime I want to hold folks accountable, I’ve been shunned, lectured, belittled, talked shit about, dis-invited, erased, ignored by my own. Who are not my own.

I am tired of the prevailing mentality that absolves us of any responsibility, accountability, culpability. We have enabled the fascist state that is now our everyday reality, by pretending it would never happen to us or affect us lest we jeopardize our precious careers. So then, what is meaningful resistance. What meaningful intellectual, soul searching, light bringing, community building work must we all do. What can educators and writers and artists really, truly do.

 

One thought on “What is the role of the poet “in these times,” continuing thoughts

  1. This brings a couple of things to mind for me. One is that when I was in high school and college (early to mid-1970’s), I had many teachers who actively encouraged us to talk about the issues that were current at the time. For instance, in a social studies class in high school, spring of 1970, someone made an offhand comment that we lived in a dictatorship. The teacher put the question to the class: Do you agree with that, do you think we live in a dictatorship? We went around the room, and everyone, every student in the class, said yes, we live in a dictatorship. People’s answers were quiet and thoughtful. The school had a mostly working-class population, and it was one of two high schools at that time where most of the African-American students were concentrated. * The teacher didn’t leave it at that; ongoing through the class that spring, we talked constantly about how to tell if something political “leaders” said was true, we talked about ways of actively resisting government actions, etc.

    This was during the war in Vietnam. In another class, the teacher one day asked all of the male students “If you are drafted, will you comply with the draft and be taken into the military, or will you resist?” He asked the female students “Would you want your boyfriend to go into the military if he is drafted?” He went around the room and asked everyone individually. I only remember one male student saying he would go into the military if he was drafted. None of the female students said they would want their boyfriends to go into the military.

    That same spring, 1970, teachers went on strike in Minneapolis schools. In the weeks leading up to the strike, many of the teachers talked with us about the strike issues, why there might be a strike. (The strike, when it happened, lasted two weeks. At that time it was illegal for public employees to strike in Minnesota. One result of the teachers’ strike was that state law was changed to allow public employees to strike under some circumstances.)

    I don’t teach, have never done any teaching — of course sharing knowledge is a kind of teaching, but I mean I haven’t ever in a classroom or similar way — and I don’t necessarily have huge ideas about how to approach political relevance right now these days. Having said that, some notions do come to mind – for example, pick some recent statement by Trump or one of the Trump people, or Congress, or some corporate bigwig, etc., and ask the people in class “Is this statement true? How do you know? What are some things you can do to verify if a statement is true?

    If I were teaching a class (on whatever subject), I would try to track down literature and history from some of the more significant political resistance efforts around the world in the past century or so. For instance, resistance to fascism in Europe; resistance by people in Vietnam to U.S. military actions; more recently, the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter, etc.; talk about things the resistance movements have done that were effective, what wasn’t so effective, etc. You certainly can think of a long list of examples yourself.

    As a general thing, during the mid-1970’s when I started to become politically active on the far left, the reading I found most useful was history written from a left-wing and/or pro-labor viewpoint. (A couple of the first things I read were John Reed’s book Ten Days That Shook the World, and a couple of articles in one of the left-wing magazines of those years about the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930’s. The articles on fascism emphasized that fascist regimes were weakest where physical in-the-streets anti-fascist resistance was strongest, i.e. where fascist organizations were not able to gain (or create the illusion of) physical control of the streets and other public places.

    These are some things off the top of my head.

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