Yes, friends. The amnesiacs and apologists, and yes, also the assholes, have spoken. Poetry is relevant again, in “these times” of crisis. Alleluia.
You will pardon my sarcasm here. I seem to recall having the same visceral gag reflex, when poetry became “relevant” again, after 9/11, in which poets who had never professed to be “political poets,” some of whom had previously expressed derision for those of us whose poetic lives have always been political, all of a sudden were soapboxing about why poetry must be political, why it is so necessary, like it was some new thing.
Poet friends, are you feeling like that pushover, emotionally abused girlfriend? You know, the person on whom others depend for everything, but then they get all confused, hostile, and superior when you speak up and say, hi, I have always been here, taking care of your shit. They want you to stay silent, and they want to ignore that you were the one who did all that emotional work.
They use verse to teach their children how to speak and read. They use verse in their weekly worship. They use verse to consecrate their unions, to bury their dead, to mark rites of passage. They turn to verse every time something challenging happens in their everyday lives, in their personal, social, and national lives. They turn to verse to sell their products. They think this is edgy and cool, and they pat themselves on the back about it. They turn to verse because they can’t speak for themselves, but they think using the verse of others is speaking for themselves.
You, my friend, are part of that invisible but ever-present unpaid and unappreciated labor force, and they take credit for even thinking that your work is of convenient use today. They think they are so clever, tapping into your labor. They’re really not so clever, are they, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to appropriate your work all the time.
They say, we appreciate you now, until we don’t; we need you now, until we don’t. They think what they do is so much more important than what you do. They think what you do is easy, that it’s not real work. They think you should be grateful. I am aware this is not gracious, but you know what? I’m not grateful.
I will tell you what I am grateful for. I am grateful for poetry, for poets, for those who have always championed poetry because of poetry’s undeniable social, cultural, and historical value and weight, for those who believe that poetry has always defined us and helped us find direction as individuals and as communities, for those who have always known, always recognized, always shown in tangible ways that these “small” works are immense, for those who never belittle poetry, never just pay it lip service, and those who never, ever take poetry for granted.