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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Crying to the world with poetry


“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.” – Muriel Rukeyser

A few days ago I wrote about the great poet and essayist Muriel Rukeyser, who would have celebrated her 103rd birthday this past week.  “If,” she wrote, “there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day.  For there would be an intolerable hunger.”

Not only did she write about the world’s social injustices, but she often went to the battle lines of the wars buffeting the world, writing about the wrenching scenes she encountered there.    While many of her poems about the wars were specific – “26-1-1939” (the day Barcelona, Spain, fell and thus ended the Spanish Civil War, for example), others simply cried out against what she witnessed.  One of those, for Saturday’s Poem, is simply titled,
                           Poem
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.


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