In the first month of 2017 I have accumulated 3 rejections, not quite on target to reach my goal of 100 by the end of the year. I have also submitted a bunch more poems to a variety of journals and presses. Meanwhile, we have sworn in an ignorant demagogue as leader of our country, and all sorts of terrible shit is already happening because of that.
Last Saturday, like millions of other people around the world, I marched in protest of all that terrible shit. Accompanying me were my mother, my aunt, my son, and about 1000 other women, men, and children in our little 6000-person town. I felt buoyed by the unprecedented groundswell of support in this red state for women's rights and all manner of other progressive causes. I care about these things, I think fighting for them is important, and I'm glad I was able to participate in the march to show my support. At the same time, the whole event felt rather surreal and fleeting, disconnected from the sorts of things - art, nature, human relationships, etc. - that feel important in a more timeless way.
In the wake of the election and inauguration, a handful of articles extolling the virtues of poetry during such politically tumultuous times have come across my newsfeed. Here's one from the Atlantic that includes an interview with Don Share, the editor of Poetry, discussing some of the ways poetry can offer a different type of entry point into political issues or current events. He's maybe a little too feel-goody about the whole enterprise, but he does make some good points about the arbitrary dividing lines we put up between politics and culture. That makes it one of the few recent articles about poetry and politics that doesn't make me feel a little morally bankrupt for not being inspired or outraged enough to write a bunch of political poems right now.
I'm not even inspired to read overtly political poetry right now. Though if I were going to read something political, I'd probably pick Anna Akhmatova's "Requiem," which you can listen to here in (overly) dramatic style, or here in electronic floral technicolor. Or maybe I'd go here and click through some links to contemporary work by poets from the countries affected by Trump's immigration ban. Now those are some people who actually have/had something to be outraged about, to write poems about. Me, as a relatively well-off white woman? I'll write about other stuff.
Many hours after the women's march ended last Saturday, I went with my parents, my partner, and our almost one year old son to our local river, the glacier-fed Matanuska, its big meandering summer flow reduced to a relative trickle in mid-winter, leaving wide swaths of snow covered riverbed for us to walk on. We built a fire out of our Christmas tree, protest signs, cardboard boxes, and a bundle of bought firewood. We sat Uly down on his new sled to warm himself in front of the fire and watch the flames dance as they ate up these few remnants of his first year. I like to imagine he had some of the same primal thoughts our ancestors had upon first discovering fire. I like to think he learned something essential and ancient about the world, that watching the fire imprinted something deep in his little brain, something deeper and more important and more lasting than any of this political hubbub.
Of all the events of the day, this fire on the almost eve of my son's first birthday is the one that inspires poetry, that seems the most relevant to this strange human existence. I realize that I am privileged to be able to disassociate from the political landscape in such a way. I realize how fraught other people's campfires are with worries about their own safety and survival. I will let those people write from their experience, write their political verses if they should feel so inclined. I'll go on writing lines from my experience and hope that they add something to our collective understanding of the world.
Maybe if non-political poetry, poems about our shared human existence, poems that illuminate others' experiences were more a part of our daily consumption, we wouldn't be in such political turmoil in the first place.