Saturday, April 21, 2007

We Have Poetry

April has been a cruel month. First, we suffered seasonally low temperatures, nor'easters, and then chilling killings in Blacksburg, Pittsburgh, and Houston. Two bomb threats brought troops of police and dogs and weapon detectors to our school's campus and set everyone on edge. It's not been the time for exploring new technologies.

Rather, we struggled all week to have a poetry workshop to celebrate National Poetry Month. About 40 students worked throughout the week with local coffeehouse bard Brad Yoder, crafting poems and riffs, mixing spoken word with tunes, music with lyrics. And on Friday, April 20, Brad led a Poetry Cafe in our school's media center. Students came from several classes throughout the day to enjoy drinks and snacks provided by our lit mag staff and participate in a poetry-slam-music jam event of words and music. Featured were our school's very own talented song and wordsmiths.

After the past couple of weeks of insane events, coming together in the heart of the campus--the media center is positioned centrally among eight classroom buildings--and enjoying songs of love, friends, hometowns, school life, teen life, and life in general, seemed to be a great antidote to the craziness in the world. It seemed a good break from "breaking news."
Planned a year in advance, our Poetry Cafe had nothing to do with this month's incidents. It simply came at the right time to create sanctuary amidst what T.S. Eliot called the "cruelest month." The power of poetry, whether spoken or sung, remains one constant to give us context for thought, feeling, and experience.
In an NPR Fresh Air interview following 9/11, then poet laureate Billy Collins noted that "poetry stands up very well" in times of grief and searching. (How many times have reporters asked an unanswerable "why?" to the events of this past week, how many times have we heard weak, babbling attempts to describe the senseless.) In times of tragedy, we have a need for poetry. Collins notes:

"I found it interesting, in a time of national crisis. We don't turn to the novel. You know, we don't say, "well, we should all go see a movie--that would kinda make us feel better."

Poetry, despite its reputation as "the sort of poor little match girl of literature, . . . stands up very well" at times such as these. In the interview, Collins reminds us that poetry is a place for the grief to go. How many times have poems added meaning, laughter, solace, a sense of our humanity, and a sense out of our humanity!
Imagine if our media could give us this this sort of poetic expression and sense--not some sophomoric or banal treatment, but something truly representatively human. Well, perhaps they can't. Nor shouldn't. Media and technology more often than not fail to make us more human. Lately, they have seemed only able to add to our fears and loathing rather than ease our stresses. Despite all of the outlets hears only one note.
Does Web 2.o offer with its read/write functionality offer more promise? Will its collaborative, open structure to allow content to be sent and received more democratically lend itself to the poetry of being human. We'll see.
In the meantime, and the mean times, we have poetry.

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