Thursday, May 4, 2017

Journalistic Poetry: An American Chronicle

Bearing Witness to the Times: Journalistic Poems from the First 100 Days of a New Presidency

American Landscape (Public Domain, courtesy of Pixabay)

Some of my writer friends and I have been talking – especially the poets among us. What can we do during these uncertain times? We see before us (and among us) division and discord magnified by the nature of our political system.

The best thing that poets can do is to bear witness to the times – articulate what is happening in the moment; speak to the real life experiences of your people.  Earlier this year I am set myself a goal to write a poem each week to reflect what I see and experience in the life of our nation. My thinking was that if I could write one poem a week there would be some chronicle of our sacred/tested/doubtful union.

Since I began this project, I have found encouragement in the words of novelist Arundhati Roy:

Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.*  

I hope my efforts will not be polemical, but will rather be a true expression of what is. My goal will be to speak to our experiences of what we see and feel in our community and national life. Hopefully that poetic chronicle will depict the joys, sorrows, celebrations and uncertainties that come forth in our common struggle for a more perfect union.

I have referred to this as an “American Poetry Project” because it is my own private attempt to take a look at the state of our nation and to render some public sense of the times in poetic form. I wrote the first poem, “When Hope Is Set in Stone” on Inauguration Day and have written a poem each week since then to try to grasp the mood in our country.

President Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, referred to the 87 years since the country’s founding and the war which was “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

We are now 240 years beyond our nation’s formative Declaration of Independence, and some see these times as testing the very fabric of democracy.  These are the poetic “witnesses” that I have composed to date. I am leaving this project open-ended, so you will see more entries in the future, but I wanted to let the first 100 days of a new administration in the White House serve as a marker to bring these 16 poems together. (You may click on any title to read the poem).

Dealer of the White House (to the Tune of “Master of the House”)


          Addendum: Poems written after the first 100 days
                     Down at the Plant

                     Aleppo After the Fall

                     Fault Lines

* From War Talk, a collection of essays that speak to the rise of militarism and the increasing religious and racial violence seen in the world today.


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