Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

here’s what I wanted to say:

sometimes the lack of human interaction can make a person

    physically ill

but sometimes human interaction is even worse than that
and since not all is lost yet

since some people still believe in us

and because some still consider us

the voice of our generation

(and because we are, in the end, still standing)
I would like once more to emphasize that:

we are lonely

very few people believe in us

we are reluctant to show our poems

to our parents, to our close friends, our acquaintances

no one believes in us

after a good day at work

no one will go have a beer with us

no one will teach us loneliness

– Kirill Medvedev, It’s No Good. n+1 / ugly duckling press, eastern european poets series #30, 2012. p. 77.

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The lamb knows all it knows through awareness of the patterns embedded in a generalized state of risk. The lamb’s way of sensing is a clear-minded sensing of the world as world aligns against the lamb: demystified, dependent, and with brutality intact. The lamb—like all prey, and unlike any predator—is a scholar of the all, but the bird of prey flying overhead mistakes its expertise in corpses for proof of its own general acuity.

– Anne Boyer, quoted in MH’s “binding cartesianism(s): on anne boyer’s a handbook of disappointed fate,” 3:AM Magazine (x) (via @argyrocratie)

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Bertolt Brecht, War Primer 

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“What is the reality? Climate change is stoppable, but enough has changed that there are already consequences—Canadians have only to look to our melting Arctic ice to see them. And because of the warming oceans, there will be more consequences even if the global community cuts all carbon emissions this minute. It may be possible to reverse climate change by harvesting carbon from the air, though no one is sure where to put it afterwards, and it’s not clear that the political will exists to take any of these measures, especially given the current fate of the Paris Agreement.

Do we need to muster the political will required to take the measures still available? Absolutely. But do we also need to consider how to encounter the reality of climate change, how to feel it, how to live with feeling it? I think we do, though it scares me. T.S. Eliot wrote in the opening to “Four Quartets” that “human kind / cannot bear very much reality.” I used to think he was writing about other people, about a rule to which I was an exception, but I’m humbler now and see myself in his words. I can handle only so much.

I think I might have to learn to handle more, though. Even if I don’t volunteer, I expect to be conscripted soon. And the tiny element of envy I’ve found in myself suggests there may be something in it for me. For if it’s true that we can only deal with so much reality, being numb is its own kind of pain. This January, after covering climate change for the Guardian for five years, Michael Slezak wrote an unusually personal article, “Writing about Climate Change: My Professional Detachment Has Finally Turned to Panic.” An excerpt:

Until recently, like a sociopath might have little feelings [sic] when witnessing violence, I’ve managed to have relatively mild emotional responses to climate change… Intellectually I’ve understood the things I’ve been reporting and the inevitable disaster that is looming for much of the world’s population. But somehow, I didn’t feel the deep sense of panic or dread that is obviously appropriate when facing such a serious crisis. But in 2016, something changed.

He describes what he thinks might have precipitated the change, then writes:

But the new emotional reaction I’ve developed to climate change, while obviously unpleasant, also comes as a kind of relief.

That panic may bring relief is odd, but I get it. Becoming emotionally in touch with the reality he was reporting made Slezak whole—at least as whole as any of us might claim to be. His thinking, his body, and his emotions fell in line. Furthermore, he was in a more intimate relationship with the drought- and fire-ravaged landscapes he was reporting on, in the sense that he made himself vulnerable to them, allowed them to act on him. So he was fully engaged with the world around him. And that kind of engagement offers a measure of well-being. The catch is that in the case of climate change, the intimacy is tied to tremendous distress.

Many Westerners are in a state of denial about climate change—I include myself here. I’m not an outright denier, but I tend to fall into the category of what Jonathan Rowson calls “stealth deniers”—those who “accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change” but don’t “appear to have the commensurate feelings, sense of responsibility or agency that one might expect.” In Rowson’s study of the British population, 19.6 percent were outright deniers (what he calls “the unconvinced”) and 63.9 percent were stealth deniers, like me. I’m what Rowson terms “an emotional denier.” I, along with 47.2 percent of the stealth deniers he identified, have trouble connecting emotionally with the reality of climate change. I’m Slezak circa 2015, the one who didn’t panic. But the encounter with the starfish led me a little ways out of that numbness, and in a way it felt good, even as my body tensed up and my breath shortened.

Denial, in any case, might show that I’m on the threshold of mourning, just overwhelmed by it … which could mean that I’ve crossed into it without knowing. For although there are myriad theories about how mourning is experienced, and certainly people mourn differently, denial is often an early stage. So as a denier who glimpses grief, I may be on my way to a richer, more painful engagement with the dying world—which I both want and don’t want. I want it for the reasons I’ve given already—I want to feel integrated as a person and wholly engaged by my environment. But I also want it for moral reasons. Philosopher Simone Weil has written that “to know that this man who is hungry and thirsty really exists as much as I do—that is enough, the rest follows of itself.” Weil’s point is that actually, vividly grasping the reality of another being leads straight into a moral relationship of care. That’s one reason I want to step further out of denial. Then there’s Lesley Head’s argument that truly grieving climate change, and the selves that will be stripped from us in the process, can free up emotional energy to be invested in more creative ways. “Bearing our grief will not necessarily stave off catastrophe, but it will give us a better chance of effective action,” she writes. What exactly constitutes effective action will vary depending on the situation: it could involve a variety of actions aimed at stopping or even reversing climate change; it could also be a matter of keeping vigil and offering to our human as well as our animal, vegetable, and mineral companions what palliative care is possible now that global warming is underway.

We need to think about what vigil and palliative care might look like, for these are becoming increasingly necessary forms of action. Head notices that “we are systematically excluding the more extreme parts of future projections from our consideration, just because they are so difficult.” She suggests that some of our preparatory efforts “must go into emotional preparedness for things that may be extremely unpleasant.”

This takes me back to poetry. I’m not foolish enough to think that poetry is The Answer to climate change, or even to the question of how to live with the escalating pain it’s causing. But as a poet, I have to wonder what it has to offer, how it can help me to shift out of denial, and how it may support me as I move deeper into the work of mourning. For poetry is often a part of mourning. As Don McKay has observed, poetry is one of those things that seems expendable in a fast-paced world where we live so much on the surface. It roars to the fore at crucial moments of life where we want language to step up and acknowledge significant events and feelings—birth, death, love …

Even people who don’t otherwise read or listen to poetry will often look to it for support in the face of death: poetry is often a part of vigils, eulogies, funerals, memorials. It can support us in so many ways that I can’t hope to write about it comprehensively. But here are a couple of things it can do.

It can help with denial by making loss feel real. Jorie Graham has said that in America, a coup has been enacted “upon the reality status of events and of people and therefore on nature itself.” “The state of emergency,” she says, “is this: this not-even-feeling-it-is-there, the not-even-feeling-others-are-real.””

– Sue Sinclair, “AS THE WORLD ENDS, HAS THE TIME FOR GRIEVING ARRIVED?” Brick Magazine. Winter 2018, #100. Via Lithub.

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