Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Read poetry every day

The science fiction writer Ray Bradbury urges those of us involved in the world to read poetry. He said once
“Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t often use enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eyes, your ear, your tongue, your hand"
That's so true. I try to abide by Bradbury’s suggestion. Lately I have been reading two poets whose work is relevant to those of us working for social justice- the Australian poet Judith Wright and the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert.

I like these lines taken from a poem of Herbert’s titled Mr Cogito on a Set topic:
with the inexorable
passing of years
his count of friends

they went off
in pairs
in groups
one by one

some paled like wafers
lost earthly dimensions
and suddenly
or gradually
to the sky
and this one from a poem titled “A Small Heart”
so now I sit in solitude
on a sawed-off tree trunk
in the exact center point
of the forgotten battle
gray spider I spin
bitter meditations

on memory too large
and a heart too small
I like what one writer writes about Herbert’s poems.
“That his poems are poised midway between his dedication to courage and justice and his profound sense of humility and imperfection. They repeatedly affirm the paradox that the mind fees itself, if at all, only by submitting to its own fragility”
Judith Wright spent the first part of her life writing poetry for which she became famous. The second half of her life was strongly committed to citizen activism on behalf of the environment, Indigenous issues and social justice issues.

Wright’s poetry so often speculates on the responsibility we have when faced with wrongs and injustices that occur around us. In the poem Jet Flight over Derby she writes:
And therefore, when land dies
opened by whips of greed
these plains lie torn and scattered
Then I erode; my blood
reddens the stream in flood
Judith Wright, Jet Flight over Derby
And in her 1962 poem Prayer she writes:
Let me not watch in spite, caring no more
but let my heart’s old pain tear me until I bleed
Judith Wright, Prayer, 1962
As for Judith Wright so for us. We all have a responsibility to face injustice. It is this unwillingness to turn away from injustice and suffering, to see it and to be motivated to act to overcome it that is the raison d’etre of citizen activism.

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