The world must have
someone to feel its pain
& speak of it.
The poet is that mouth.
(from “The Poet as a Feeler of Pain”
by Erica Jong)
Even nowadays (or especially nowadays), poetry has remained one of the most questioned products of human creativity. What is the real need of poets to write poetry, what is the real demands of the readers to read poetry, and what is the role of poetry in (and against) historical and social trends and events? – These questions are nowadays as pressing as they used to be in the years immediately after World War II, when the German philosopher of Jewish origin Theodor Adorno, upon his return to post-Nazi Germany said that it was barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz. In the first decades of the XXI century, when the global economic crisis has overflown into a series of political earthquakes at the European and North American continue, and democracy has become an extremely expandable category (democarture, as some call it), interpreted by ideologies which are in their essence anachronous, the question that is asked is not much different than Adorno’s – does it make sense for one to write poetry, as an intimate, individual creative act, or should one use all of his creative and intellectual capacity to the world in a more involved (and joint) effort to change it to better? Or, should poetry be understood as a side effect of an extreme (selfish, egocentric, self-sufficient, egotistic) individualism, at the time when it seems that the participation in the collective, public life (at local, national or global level) is considered not only an obligation and expression of a higher civic awareness, but even abstaining and not taking sides with respect to the current issues (again at local, national or global level) seems a sin.
The responses to the above questions and dilemmas, paradoxically, can be found in poetry itself. As early as 1839, the English poet John Donne says in his “Meditation XVII” that “No man is an island, /
Entire of itself. / Each is a piece of the continent, / A part of the main” and he adds: “Each man’s death diminishes me, / For I am involved in mankind”. On one hand, poetically defining the universality of human experience and the unity of each of us with humanity; on the other, these verses also indicate the essential nature of poetry – it was and it has remained an inevitable need of man to express in his own way, in verses and melodies, what is actually common and the same. Almost one hundred and seventy years later, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, receiving the Struga Poetry Evenings Golden Wreath in 2007 said: “Poetry is not such an easy affair, as it seems in the beginning… In the beginning I thought that it was an innocent game, but the difficulties that I encountered because of it have convinced me that it was not only a game. I can promise that I would continue writing poetry because it humanises the history and it builds bridges among the people.” Here, in these Darwish’s words, poetry reveals itself not only as a lonely, individual act of isolation from the world, but on the contrary, as an authentic communication expression of the poet to this world, and an attempt to influence it. Poetry is a protest of the individual against the uniformity of the collectivisation of our contemporary world, which autocratically and rudely imposes not only “socially acceptable” causes, but also “socially acceptable” ways of standing for these causes. Poetry is reaching for the primordial, primary melody of the language as a tool to individualise activism, and for a deeper humanization of the often manipulated concepts of democracy, citizenship and freedom. “I lived under occupation,” says Darwish, “and then I wrote to liberate myself with words.”
In the end – what kind of poetry should be written today? Whenever I would ask my little son, staring at some child’s face on the TV what it was, he always gave me the same answer – a child! The faces of the children were always different, smaller, bigger, girls’, boys’, white, black, but while I saw their differences with my adult eyes, he always saw the same – child! This is how the real poetry should be, make us be children again – so that through all of those different verses we are reached by the same, bewitching us again and again.