On Sadness, Poetry as Activism, and Where We Go From Here

I think we can all agree that this has been a rough semester.

No matter what side you’re looking from, no matter who you supported in the election, no matter what your core beliefs are telling you to do at this very moment in time, we’re at a turning point in our country’s history, and that of world politics.

This whole semester I’ve felt powerless. This country would rather see a man who hates me (and millions of others) lead them, than see a competent woman take that same job.  It’s insulting, it’s demoralizing, and overall it made me incredibly sad. People I’ve known for years have been arguing on Facebook about my rights to reproductive health, marriage, disability services, even my own religion.

If it hadn’t been for the writing community I’ve found here, I think I might have crawled into bed and stayed in a blanket cocoon for the next four years. One of the ways I found support was with my friends in Guerrilla. I’m sure you’ve all heard me talk about Guerrilla enough this semester, but after the election we got together and talked about where we go next, as well as some other questions we have as writers.

How do we use our passion for, and knowledge of writing to help fuel change? If we do, how do we make our activist writing accessible to all? And what’s the point of writing in an increasingly illogical and fascist world?

First, let’s look at writing in general.  All semester long we’ve been working to become better at creating an image that speaks to people on more than one level. In other words, we’ve been creatively working toward becoming better communicators. And this isn’t the only skill we’ve been cultivating that we can use in our activism; if we can make an image portray emotion and meaning, we can use our actions and our words to portray solidarity. If we know the importance of how one word can change an entire poem, we know the importance of how using respectful language can change minds. If we’re willing to admit our writing isn’t perfect, then we can be looking at ourselves and constantly asking those in our community what we can do better to support them.

As for accessibility, this is something we started talking about toward the beginning of the semester in terms of where Guerrilla hangs art, and how we get it to the largest audience. If we post our writing online, how will those in our communities without internet access be able to see? If we post it on our campus, a supposedly public safe, then how can our friends who aren’t welcome, or who don’t feel safe here, access it?  And how can we improve upon what we’ve done in the past?  We don’t have any definite answers, but it’s something to think about when looking at poetry as activism. We haven’t all had the same education, and we haven’t all come from the same background. Assuming any of those things means immediately cutting people out of our activism.  And when discussing poetry, it’s hard to figure out where the line of making something accessible and understanding starts to undercut meaning and importance . The best thing we can do when using the voices of others (such as with the poem on the gazebo, The Convocation of Conquest, which you can read here if you scroll down a little bit), is to make sure that those whose words we are using are coming from marginalized groups, and that we are not aiming to speak for them, or over them.

Lastly, what is the point? I’ve been uninspired and struggling for months. Why write if my words are meaningless? Why write a poem about a museum in Iceland, or a spider on your headboard, or a deer outside your window? The point is that creating art – even art that is not political – is a statement, saying we will not let ourselves be silenced. The point is that even in a hateful world, words have the power to change, inspire, unite. We’ve seen it with Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. We’ve seen it with Elie Wiesel’s Night. We’ve seen it with how one word – or three letters – splattered on a gazebo in mustard can bring a community together against hate and injustice. In the coming years, we are going to face unimaginable barriers to our beliefs and values. We’ll find ourselves thinking that our one voice can’t make a difference, but I ask you to reconsider. I am too ill informed to speak to Gorbachev’s politics, but I’d like to end with a quote of his: “If not me, who? And if not now, when?”

Be safe, friends, and keep making good art.

One Reply to “On Sadness, Poetry as Activism, and Where We Go From Here”

  1. Thanks, Kallie, for the inspiring post. Too often I find it easy to slip into a rut of not producing any creative work, especially over the breaks between semesters. Now more than ever, it feels like what we’re doing is important, and you just put into words why this is so. The coming years are going to be hard, and this is not a time to act defeated by them.

    Happy holidays

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