Thursday, December 3, 2009

Poems Can Stop Bulldozers

The Australian poet John Kinsella has posted a blog at the Poetry Foundation site that is a very powerful statement about the efficacy of poetry, especially in thwarting environmental degradation. What is so striking to me is that in the absence of violence - Kinsella is a pacifist - language is one of the last things one has left to articulate resistance.

Vermin: A Notebook

Poems can stop bulldozers.

Driving down to the city this morning, we saw five or six emus crossing the road in an area of national park where I hadn’t seen emus before—not once in a lifetime of driving that way. It was a remarkable and invigorating sight as they plunged into the wandoo woodlands of Western Australia, negotiating their way through the spiky hakeas and parrot bush.

On a personal level, it came as a kind of foil for the weekend-that-was—a complex amalgamation of environmental affirmation and also witnessing of horrific environmental crime. The sort of experience that leaves you wondering if any form of environmental activism has any chance of succeeding, yet nonetheless also convinced that there is no choice about acts of resistance. Without them, the environment has no chance.

And writing a statement like this is part of a process of creating poems that hopefully resonate in different ways and in different contexts, and extend what is a particularly local debate into the wider dialogue of which, sadly, it is also part. The compulsion to witness in poetry, the desire to overcome a feeling of crushing failure, and the need to create a cautionary tale that is more than propaganda—all this goes hand-in-hand with a volatility and (maybe overly) emotional reaction to the situations as they happen.

I can see the poem forming in my head as I am raging against an act of destruction, not as a fetishized aesthetic “response,” but in the struggle to formulate a language of reply that is not aggressive and thus self-defeating and hypocritical. I am being somewhat obtuse here. To begin at one possible beginning . . .

Click here for the rest of the essay.

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