Sunday, October 02, 2005

Everyone is a Poet

It's true! Yes, some are better than others. Some want to be and perhaps are not as good as they'd like to be (present company included) Some, on the other hand reject the notion altogether.

My youngest daughter breathes a sigh of relief when she sees her English curriculum suggests only a "light" touch of poetry this year. Still, she will tell you that she once wrote a poem that was so "damn pimp!" This poem was basically a biographical account of a adult person from previous school days. I don't recall the verse itself, but I can tell you it was not flattering of the subject. Nor was it intended to be.

The events of 9-11 brought out hoards of poetry. People who rarely expressed themselves in ink did so with poems. The floodgates opened. I suppose this was good for the people themselves. A sort of therapeutic release. I do believe Poetry can be that at times. Sometimes it has filled such a role for me.

A good friend of mine sent me a 9-11 poem and asked for comment. I read it several times as I usually do before I will comment on a poem. It was not a "bad" poem. It had structural factors that seemed to work well. It had a sort of meter that was palatable. If it were not for the subject matter I suppose I would have given it high marks. I confessed however, that I was perhaps not the best person to judge such work. I told him I have seen and read so many 9-11 poems that I have in fact become almost numb to the genre itself. I tried of course to be tactful. He said that he understood and acknowledged that I have willingly responded to his work in the past and respected my honesty on the matter.

I myself have only written one 9-11 poem. I don't even recall what I did with it. I really didn't care for it and would likely disown it if someone found it and asked if it were mine.

Katrina too has brought forth a ton of written verse. I have a draft of one that is not finished. It simply has not been calling my name to rewrite. In thinking about all this, I have realized that both 9-11 and Katrina are not totally absent from my writing. Both have influenced my work to some degree and likely will continue to. They cause me to think about many abstractions in such a way as to fine tune what words such as hate or loss or love mean. To see poverty in a different light. To clarify in my mind what rich is. Or security. Or hope and despair. I think it is the deepening of feelings that often brings poetry to the surface in individuals. Even those who are the last to consider themselves poets.

The San Francisco Chronicle
yesterday had a piece written by staff writer Jim Doyle that called attention to hundreds of heartfelt poems carved into the walls by detainees at Angel Island. People who were kept at the Immigration Station during a time when the United States policy was to limit the number of Asian immigrants into this country.

Between 1910 and 1940 several hundred thousand immigrants were processed by immigration officials at Angel Island. Their processing however was not just a matter of verifying their credential and stamping some card as they passed through. Many of these people where detained behind bars. Sometimes the detentions were for up to two years.

In the 1970's the barracks that housed detainees were slated for demolition. The re-discovery of the poems written upon the walls stopped it. Today, there is a preservation effort underway to salvage this bit of history that contains the voices of immigrants who expressed a wide range of emotion from hope to fear and despair.

This restoration is the least that can be done to honor the passions of a people who wanted to come to America and their first experiences in the country must have challenged every notion they had about their future. Just like those displaced from Katrina - and trying to imagine the future now that they have lost everything. It is the poems written on their faces that say the most.
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