Blog 2018

From Columbine to Marjory Stoneman Douglas....



You know…how they say…plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose…Yes.  It is taking too long.


So here is a little essay I wrote in 1999, after the shootings at Columbine, many in Media often referring to it as “The Columbine Massacre”.  I never liked that.  I am not fond of such titular address that renders somehow romantic the event of school shootings that result in murder.  I do not like to hear the recent Florida murders in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School referred to as The Valentine’s Day Massacre.  I think this is insulting.  But we can split such hairs later.  For now, I can only repeat what I’ve been saying for too long, feeling that call in what often feels like the lonely wilderness of poetic witness.




What Are Poets for in a Destitute Time?


In 1987, on a hot August night, my friend and I were settling into a summer’s porch-supper when we heard six explosions.  A half-block from home a woman lay fallen from her Harley, a crumple of instantaneous death, murdered for unrequited “love”.  Her blood spilled from her carotid into a thickening pool that, as I have stated [in a poem] “coagulated in the summer ally”.  Seeing what I was seeing in that moment, with all its horrific details, I was compelled to stand for her in a sort of quiet vigil, as means of bearing witness, until they zipped her up in a body bag and drove her to the morgue.  It would have felt indecent for me to have simply looked at her and walked away.


I have, for some time now, been thinking about the poetry of witness and the poetry of atrocity.  I have been thinking about psychic numbing and its relationship to the poetry of collusion and apathy.  I have been thinking how easily we engage ourselves in the politics of, and atrocities committed in, other countries.  I have been wondering that there is less reward for poets politically engaged in the troubles of the homeland than there is for the media whose presentation of [atrocious] images may one day win awards.


I have been thinking of Oklahoma City and the Women’s Clinic in Alabama.  I have been thinking of the Doctor in New York and of the Day Traders in Atlanta.  I have been thinking of Jonesboro.  I have been thinking of Columbine, of teenagers running in terror from their high school, and of a library riddled with bullets and bodies.  I have been reflecting on that atrocious image of our smallest ones being led by police, hand-linked, single-file, away from their Jewish community Center.  I have been thinking that adults who understand goodness were children who knew innocence.  I have been thinking of the poetry of witness and atrocity in America as it pertains to US.


So it was, in the aftermath of our local paper’s coverage of the Columbine Massacre, that I instigated a movement, Poets for Social Awareness, and asked poets, writers, and editors I knew (and some I didn’t) to flood the Star Tribune with requests that equal time and space be given to pages of poetry and writing that reflected a community in solidarity and demonstrated that we poets and writers are here, working hard to make a difference for all people and their children.  I don’t know if / how many people addressed the paper.  I know nothing happened, even though many thought it was a good idea.


So now I wondering how it’s possible that we are so unwilling or “unable” to collect ourselves in such representative fashion that we won’t even try to influence those in charge of a newspaper.  And now I’m thinking about the poet’s role in a capitalist culture whose gains and losses are steeped in competition.  And I wonder if we are so divided or disingenuous that we can’t even band together to say we do not accept this sort of trafficking—beyond grief and vigil—which is that sale-of-story made for capitalistic gains through sensationalistic journalism.  Where does conscience really lie in such a moment?  As poets, how can we really touch a nation if we won’t even impact a newspaper?  Are we just so outside the mainstream that we accept how little we might matter?


So I’ve been wondering: If a nation’s poetry is its will, then what does silence-and-inaction mean?  Thinking something but refusing to act on what we say we think is the same as not believing in the thinking. 


So I am thinking what weakens us as a poetic nation is not the atrocious, but our refusal to act out what we say we believe.  If, indeed, those chickens have come home to roost (Malcolm X), then it is indecent for us to simply look at what they do and walk away.


And I have determined—all explanations and excuses aside—if I don’t place my actions by my thinking, then I lose the integrity of any fine think I might think or say.