I’ve been asking the question for weeks now:
What will be asked of the poets, healers, and storytellers in these times we live in?
My teacher and friend Jeffrey Davis just asked that question – quoting Holderlin. “What are poets for in destitute times?”
My throat is tight with pain for Aleppo. What is asked of us?
We can send money. Donate to charities safely from our homes. Stay a safe suburban distance from the “that will never happen to me” and “those people.”
What is asked of us? The poets are the people whose responsibility is blurring the lines between Us and Them. The poet gives the voice to the Other.
This situation demands raw vulnerability. Complete pain. Feeling what is happening fully, and expressing it. Don’t numb it and don’t bottle it up. Letting the world flow through us and translating the chaos into something everyone else can understand.
This is our work.
Poets wrap words around the indescribable.
In many ways the healers and shamans, the priests and the therapists are being asked to hold space. To create a safe space for pain, for grief. This is hard work.
And then, the harder work. Living and telling the stories. Holding the stories.
I was drawn to reread parts of a book I haven’t read in ages this morning. Bill Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell encapsulated in a book called The Power of Myth. In many ways, this book kicked off my most recent writing project. I felt the need to revive and update myths for the modern world.
Campbell: … Myths are so intimately bound to culture, time and place that unless the symbols, the metaphors, are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, the life just slips away from them.
Moyers: Who speaks in metaphors today?
Campbell: All poets. Poetry is a metaphorical language.
Moyers: A metaphor suggests potential.
Campbell: Yes, but it also suggests the actuality that hides behind the visible aspect. The metaphor is the mask of God through which eternity is to be experienced.
The metaphor is the mask of God.
What is asked of us?..
Moyers: Who interprets the divinity inherent in nature for us today? Who are the shamans? Who interprets unseen things for us?
Campbell: It is the function of the artist to do this. The artist is one who communicates myth for today. But he has to be an artist who understands mythology and humanity and isn’t simply a sociologist with a program for you.
I remember reading this on a plane flying somewhere for work. I remember feeling frightened. I’m an artist. I thought. I understand mythology and humanity. I remember feeling a great heavy weight. A thick mantle of responsibility.
What is asked of us?
Create. Create. Create.
Translate the formless into words. Other people will cling to your words like life rafts.
We need your metaphors, poets. We need you to feel this world deeply. We need you to make sense of it.
You are asked to hold the light of hope in the darkness. Which means that you are always gazing into the mists ahead.
I’m sorry that this isn’t a happier job. But we need you.
8 thoughts on “What Will Be Asked Of The Poets”
Beautifully and truly spoken. Thanks for being one of the artists, and thanks for your words.
Thank you for braving through those initial feelings of weighty responsibility and leaning in and leading on.
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