To which I replied:
Just like that.
It feels like it's been a hard year, maybe for a bunch of us. In no particular order:
- the hideous, soul-scarring election
- my own heightened awareness of race and policing and all manner of injustice
- shouldn't I have known this more piercingly all along?
- why didn't I know it all along? why didn't I let myself know it?
- busier than ever
- the historian has retired--which is awesome! but it has thrown me for a loop.
- my loop, being thrown ( < metaphor)
- an illness during the spring and summer for the historian
- my workplace is now absent the historian, except in memory
and so on.
That list of bullets is, more or less, why I've not been writing. As I considered the things I might write about, the weight of everything seemed so thoroughly to counterbalance it that 'what-I-might-write-about' seemed like feathers. Like piffle. Like lighter than lightweight. I felt terrible for even thinking about writing about, say, pie, or pancakes, or whining in my usual recreational way.
I read this, while preparing for Danez Smith's visit to our college this past September:
I came to talk to you, my partners in verse who build a life’s work documenting their brief time on this earth. I come you to asking to question the landscape of our pastoral muse. I ask you to question what makes you safe? What frees you to write odes of the low country of America, to mention the trees and not their wicked history, to write the praise song of night, but not sing of what dark bodies hide cold in daylight? My family, and I pray we can call each other family, I am asking you to do what you do best: Write.
Writing in these dark times feels necessary and also harder: recognizing that writing is always risking not getting it right, and if you only do the thing you already know how to do, you aren't risking enough, you aren't willing yourself to learn. 'Odes of the low country of America'? That's me, folks. Having conceded that, then, what would I write?
I've written a lot in the past year, most of which I've shared only in the smallest of circles. But I haven't written here. Each time in the past few months that I've approached writing here, I've felt sad and wrong, and I've stopped myself. But I've been thinking that I want to break that sad/wrong circuit. Recently, I also read this, by Matthew Zapruder, "Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis":
Poets, if you find yourselves worrying that your poems are not “about” political matters, here is my suggestion: every single time you feel that worry, finish your poem, make it as beautiful as you can, and then do some kind of concrete action. Support threatened communities, or the environment. Pledge yourself to participating in a voter registration drive. Give money to a political organization working tirelessly for change. If you do this, the world will benefit in two ways: from your activism, and from the beautiful poem you have made.
Regardless of how poets feel about aesthetic matters, we all agree we are citizens. We have the same obligations to activism and engagement as anyone else. Some poets I know have been working very hard in these ways for a long time. Others of us have been mostly asleep. One of the only good things I can say about this undeniable crisis is that it has made absolutely clear what some have never forgotten: that we all need to wake up and start putting our queer shoulders to the wheel (Ginsberg, “America”). Whatever kind of poetry anyone writes, or whatever art we make, there is always time to do the necessary work of making our society better.
It's not like one of these poets, both of whom I admire so much, is right and the other is wrong. It's that I want to write, I want to risk more, I want to try to get it right and have the courage to face that I might very well get it wrong, and still keep trying. I want to hear and respond to the call to speak to my times. I want to make beautiful things with words. I want to write.
So, to you, anyone who might still want words from me: Okay, I will.