Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poets and Catastrophe

Related to the last post about poets and protest, is the NYTimes article "The Poetry of Catastrophe." Perhaps we turn to poetry rather than prose in moments of great cataclysm because poetry, like the sword, cuts to the quick faster than a slower poison. (Though perhaps analogy here is little off, yes? Prose is not poison, nor poetry a sword, I guess I was speaking to the sharpness of the emotion. Anyway you get the 'point':).) Most catastrophes, natural or manmade, happen when we aren't looking, like 9/11, like the Japan earthquake, like the BP oil spill, like the bombings in Libya, and poetry responds, when it is done well, I think, to the sharp punch of pain and terror and confusion associated with such events. Think of Yeats, Auden, Shakespeare, Whitman. Likewise it captures the unexpected, sometimes irrational, human hope and bravery in the face of such cataclysm.  Think of Hecht and Komunyakaa and Adrienne Rich.

"My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world."
— Adrienne Rich

The same can be said about poetry's capacity to describe revolution.

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