|Volume 36, Issue
Cover: Angel with Lyre
© 1996 Kinuko Y. Craft
All rights reserved. kycraft.com
Wyrms & Wormholes
New Leaves in Winter
Every now and then an incident will jolt my perspective. In my last day job, I was a clerk at a used-book store in Madison, Wisconsin, where politics has always been intrusive, but never more so than in recent years, in the wake of iniquitous policies implemented by the present state governor. During the height of the protests, one of the bookstore regulars came in, and I commented enthusiastically on the activism taking place. His face twisted with contempt—not because he opposed the position taken by the demonstrators, but because he felt their ethical priorities were skewed: on the scale of human awfulness, surely lying to fabricate a rationale for war and authorizing government-sanctioned, ongoing torture were far more vile than implementing comparatively petty changes to pay, benefits, and collective bargaining. Wasn’t it more important to call for the prosecution of warmongers and torturers who had done unconscionable harm to much greater numbers of people? He was right, of course, and I felt obscurely shamed instead of energized by my participation in those local protests. That kind of thinking, though, can easily become a trap, where its more determined practitioners end up not only unable to enjoy any aspect of their own lives, but feel compelled to prevent others from doing so as long as any suffering exists. Positive action, however slight, is still positive action—and for some, the absence of a negative may be the best they are capable of. Focus on what you can do.
Is poetry possible after Auschwitz—or, for that matter, Abu Ghraib? Is poetry the most important activity we could be engaging in as humans—as citizens of Terra? It is easy to take the position that literature and poetry (even political poetry) are trivial self-indulgences in the face of global atrocities and disasters, and that concentrating on aspects of grammar and presentation are even more shallow pursuits. However, time spent with poetry is, first of all, a peaceful pursuit: time spent in not doing harm to others. (Interestingly, poetry misused tends to fail.)
“If you’re not part of the solution …” is a facile criticism of non-involvement, but I do not believe that merely not doing harm is an insignificant goal. Secondly, the precision of expression that should be present in poetry—the best words, in their best order (and, let us hope, correctly spelled and punctuated, and permeated with syntactical clarity)—has a great deal to offer the world of diplomacy. Not a few treaties and negotiations have foundered on deficient wording. The niceties of grammar and precise diction are important for clear communication—a desperately needed skill in a world of conflicting cultures and traditions. Lastly, it is possible that the often elusive, allusive, evasive, metaphorical voice of poetry may touch hearts and minds that have made themselves impervious to more direct entreaties.
Robert Haas said, in his poem “Three Fair Branches from One Root Deriv’d,”
Sometimes the small things are not small things. I wish for all of us in the coming year the necessary luxury of being happily—and harmlessly—occupied, and I believe that the enjoyment of speculative poetry, both in its reading and in its creation, will contribute to our cumulative happiness.Onward to a fabulous future,
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