November 9, 2010
SHINE A LIGHT
I wish more journalists opened eyes and catalyzed action like Nicholas D. Kristof. In “Half the Sky,” coauthored with his wife, Mr. Kristof charts a path to ending the gender-based violence that claims one woman per minute. Yes, mass rape and honor killings, maternal mortality, and sex trafficking and forced prostitution impact one woman every single minute. Is there any question that this desecrates any reasonable vision of the world we want to live in? And yet, too many of us, point a finger or throw up our hands. Mr. Kristof doesn’t have all the answers, but www.halftheskymovement.org is a solid place to begin, then keep going with http://www.passivawa.org/.
His latest book is not the Kristof text that I intended to write about today. But just typing his name makes it impossible for me not to default my needle to the broken record. When 1 in 3 women globally suffer abuse and neglect with impunity, I can’t not sound the call of warped vinyl. It should hurt our ears to hear. It’s the death knell of our humanity. I imagine that if John Lennon were alive today, we might here a different sound collage for the 1 in 3 of the world’s population that is female: “Revolution Number 1.1 Billion.”
So what was I supposed to be saying? It’s a quieter appeal, but it too speaks to who we are and how are to each other and to ourselves.
My intended topic was a The New York Times op-ed Mr. Kristof wrote on November 3rd, entitled “Mr. Obama, It’s Time for Some Poetry.” In it, he invokes Mario Cuomo’s maxim: “We campaign in poetry, and we govern in prose.” This got me to musing on an analog for the rest of us, who may have moments of poetic transcendence, but live the majority of our lives in prosaic plotting of beginnings, middles, and ends. So, what would it mean to govern our lives in poetry?
Poems worth repeating -- the poems that grip and linger in searing, soaring, unshakable, and delicious ways – have a universality that transcends any one individual’s story or circumstance. They are personal in a way that unifies, rather than divides. They bring us closer to ourselves, while reminding us that we are not alone in our torments, our pleasures, our dreams, and dismays. To govern one’s life in poetry would mean see each other and ourselves with more grace, more appreciation, more respect, more care, more understanding.
I expect that Mr. Kristof was suggesting that a bit more “poetry” from Mr. Obama might sate the masses and silence the wolves, both shy to resist the visceral draw of inspiring emotional language. I expect that he is right. I think the power of his idea goes much deeper though.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it until the day I die: “I like to be moved.” I’m like the digital TV/Payment screens in the back of New York City taxi cabs. When the “OFF” button finally, blessedly appears, returning relative silence to the backseat, nothing but a simple “TOUCH ME” icon glows from the monitor. I stared at such two-word floating poems a dozen times over the course of this past weekend, while visiting Manhattan. These TOUCH MEs haunted my thoughts (in a good way) like a great poem does. Hell, I began to think, that really is the end all and be all, idnit?
Instead of dwelling on worries over the days seeming to stack more and more roughly against each other, as time goes by; instead of handwringing over my own obsessions, doubts, and fears; I resolved to stop whinging. Think of the 1 in 3 women living in fear and wake up, I thought. No whine, but do. A loss of personal purpose does nothing to help me, my President, or my country. So, Mr. Kristoff, I’m with you. Poetry may not set us free, but it tethers us to each other. It makes careless disregard or self-centered complaint harder. Memorable poems will quicken the blood and stir the imagination like nothing else. They touch us and we feel less alone.
Maybe what we should all do is send Mr. Obama a poem. If nothing else, we will be doing something affirmative and real and resonant. Positive beats negative any moment of the day. It’s better to build than destroy. If your political proclivities prevent such a gesture, at least go to the links in paragraph one and act positively --cradle someone with your own human soul.
Don’t keep turning pages, hoping that the next chapter will be better. Everyday is a blank screen. Switch off the chatter. Start touching.
“Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm…”
-- W. H. Auden
“Let us remember that in the end
we go to poetry for one reason,
so that we might more fully
inhabit our lives and the world
in which we live them, and that
if we more fully inhabit these
things, we might be less apt to
-- Chistian Wiman, Editor POETRY Magazine
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