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Poetry Makes Nothing Happen?

Poetry Makes Nothing Happen?

I wrote a post in Facebook yesterday out of despair and a sense of deep longing for truth, beauty, goodness, and most of all, direction. I wrote about how terrible things are right now in the United States. How much privilege we have, many of us, and how we (mostly) stand (mostly) idly by (mostly).

I also said that I felt as though none of the things I know are things that are required or helpful.

But I take that back, or I revise it, let’s say. I know some things.

I know that discernment is important and brings, carries, induces, exhibits wisdom. I know that figuring out what is mine to do, what is each of ours to do is important, and then to doing it. Not spending all our time perseverating on what is ours to do, but to, as the hymn “Wake Now My Vision” says, “to suffer thy limit /and praise the sublime.” To suffer thy limit–to recognize that each of us has what are given. To praise the sublime–to recognize truth, beauty, and goodness when we see them. To see the helpers and to become one.

Today, all I can see forward to do is to give you some words, and mostly words that are not my own. Because giving these words something I was given. Some things I know.

I know some things because my father taught me to listen to poetry, and poetry lodges itself in my heart and reminds me daily not to give up, not to lose faith, to move on even without hope. Auden is wrong when he writes, “Poetry makes nothing happen,” but I quote him below, anyway, because he goes on to describe just what poetry does make happen. I think he knew he was wrong.

These are just pieces of I know. They are mostly poems that are lodged in my heart and in my memory, that I did not have to look up. These are poems I have, as Maya Angelou admonished me and many others one night at Penn State University, put against my teeth and taken in.

This poems help me keep faith, not give up. Maybe they can help you too? The first one I have not yet committed to memory, but I will.

What is helping you not lose faith today?

“Sometimes you, sometimes I, we, will lose. We will not lose everything. All is not lost. We bring our hearts. But, sometimes, being on the right side of history, the better side of humanity, cannot counterbalance centuries of centering privilege—privileges of skin color, gender, class location, ability. // What next? // We must remember that we are meant to be free. // That we try again, not dragging the weight of those centuries behind us, but rather blooming into a future that reflects knowledge both of who we have been and who we shall yet become. // A failure, a loss, is only a filament connecting us to our past. Our past can never / represent our entire story, since the future is still becoming, with each of our actions.  / Losses call us forward. They call us to invent, to build, and to demand that the future take shape. We dust ourselves off. We roll on. (Rev. Theresa Soto)

“Nothing is more practical than finding God. / That is, falling in love in a complete and final way.” (attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ)

“What will you do / with your one wild, precious life?” (Mary Oliver)

“Dear Father, bless this food to our use, and our lives to Thy service, and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.” (Anglican grace before meals.)

“The world was made to be free in. / Give up all the other worlds / except the one to which you belong. / Sometimes it takes darkness /and the sweet confinement of your own aloneness / to know / that anything or anyone / that does not bring you more alive / is too small for you.” (David Whyte)

“Walk around feeling like a leaf. / Know you could tumble any second. / Then decide what to do with your time.” (Naomi Shihab Nye)

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; /Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” (W.B. Yeats)

“Mother I need / mother I need / mother I need your blackness now / as the august earth needs rain. “ (Audre Lorde)

“Listen more often / to things than to beings.” (Birago Dirop)

“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper, flows on south / From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,/ Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth. // III // Earth, receive an honoured guest: / William Yeats is laid to rest. / Let the Irish vessel lie / Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark / All the dogs of Europe bark, / And the living nations wait, / Each sequestered in its hate; // Intellectual disgrace / Stares from every human face, / And the seas of pity lie / Locked and frozen in each eye. / Follow, poet, follow right / To the bottom of the night, / With your unconstraining voice / Still persuade us to rejoice; // With the farming of a verse / Make a vineyard of the curse, / Sing of human unsuccess / In a rapture of distress;” (W.H. Auden)

“Take these words. Put them against your teeth and take them in, knowing that you need them to survive. Poetry can survive where nothing else can.” (Maya Angelou)

“Still I rise. / Still I rise. / Still I rise.” (Maya Angelou)

And finally, not a poem, but an important piece whose images I have internalized, but whose words I don’t yet know by heart. It’s not just faggots and strong women in this revolution, not at all, but these are some of the people we need to be, people willing to get our asses kicked and keep working to win.

“The strong women told the faggots that there are two important things to remember about the coming revolutions. The first is that we will get our asses kicked. The second is that we will win. The faggots knew the first. Faggot ass-kicking is a time-honored sport of the men. But the faggots did not know about the second. They had never thought about winning before. They did not even know what winning meant. So they asked the strong women and the strong women said winning was like surviving, only better. As the strong women explained winning, the faggots were surprised and then excited. The faggots knew about surviving for they always had and this was going to be just plain better. That made ass-kicking different. Getting your ass kicked and then winning elevated the entire enterprise of making revolution.”

(Larry Mitchell, from The Faggots and Their Friends between Revolutions)

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