Accepting oneself as a poet
is much like accepting religious vows. One takes on a mantle of poverty and obedience to an unknown, stares every day in the face of the ignorance and cruelty of the human race, and yet persists in writing because one believes in the power of poetry, because one believes that, eventually, people will read their work and listen to the message--that they can, in some way, change the world for the better with this tool.
In his inaugural adderss, President Obama called for "unity of purpose over conflict and discord" and demanded that we "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." Near the end of his speech, Obama insisted that "it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies." With this speech, every citizen of the United States was called to be present and aware, and was called into action. Whether or not they respond to those calls has yet to be determined; however, it is important to realize what that call means for poets.
Assuming that poetry, in some way, has a close relationship to faith or religion, it follows that we must look to religious ideals for guidance. For example, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops recognizes seven themes of Social Teaching. Examining these themes, poets can find something to latch onto, something to write for or against, something that moves beyond simply what they had to drink the night before or the contents of their sock drawer:
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
Call to Family, Community, and Participation
The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our societyin economics and politics, in law and policy directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Marriage and the family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
Rights and Responsibilities
The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities--to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that “if you want peace, work for justice.”1 The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.
Care for God’s Creation
We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
This list provides poets with seven different tracks of obedience to that which is poetry. If we are to help in the remaking and reshaping of America, if we are to accept the responsibility of our call to poetry and the vows we have taken to that aim, then this is what our poetry must affect.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
What Poets Must Now Do
Accepting oneself as a poet