On Facebook I’ve been sharing pictures of my Christmas tree and my favorite ornaments, some sentimental, others decidedly silly. And as I posted a photo of the wreath on my front door, bearing the simple message of “Peace,” I was watching the news out of Aleppo. As I write this, a second cease-fire is allowing for an evacuation of the besieged eastern part of the city.
We Americans like to think we have no part in what’s going on there but I won’t get into that today. My focus for this particular post is about recognizing the evil that is going on, even doing what you can about it, without being completely overwhelmed by it.
It’s an appropriate topic after this recent election in the US, the controversy and conflict of which still rattles on. And for my purposes here, how do I as an artist respond? Do I respond? If I don’t does that mean I am complicit at worst and “enablist” at best?
I’ve got several poems in the making since November 8th that are decidedly political. Will all of those turn out to be publishable, “good” pieces of art? Probably not. But one or two might. Some poets are more gifted at that sort of work than I am. Rattle has an entire section of their site dedicated to poets responding to the news.
You will probably never see one of my poems there. Not because I am against political poetry, but because I am generally not able to crank out a good piece fast enough for the Twitterverse. By the time I’ve let the dough rise and bake, the if-it-bleeds-it-leads news cycle has moved on to other fast-breaking fodder. Perhaps I am envious of those who can respond to world events so quickly and still make great, rather than sloppy, art out of it. Perhaps I am worried about becoming a reactionist instead of an activist.
Mostly I am concerned about all the free advertising I’ve already given to a certain candidate this year. It’s a tough balance; you have to recognize the threat, but if you spend most of your campaign talking about how dangerous the other candidate is, you put yourself at great risk by, as Jack Gilbert says, “Praising the devil.” What’s that old saying: All publicity is good publicity?
I wasn’t going to get into all of this just yet. I do have a longer post on the topic in mind and will be sharing that soon. For now, here is the poem that I’ve thought most about since the 8th and since we’ve finally recognized, after five years of civil war, what’s actually been going on in Aleppo. Read the text of the poem and more about Gilbert himself at The Sun, here.
I first recorded this piece three years ago, about a year after Jack Gilbert’s death. But with a better microphone and more perspective, I thought it was time to record it again. Whatever is happening in your world today, I bid you peace.