POETRY & COMMITMENT
In "The Defence of Poetry" 1821, Shelley claimed that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world". This has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power - in a vague unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political essay, "A Philosophic View of Reform," Shelley had written that "Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged" etc. The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded: Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft.
And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the "struggle between Revolution and Oppression". His "West Wind" was the "trumpet of a prophecy", driving "dead thoughts ... like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth".
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On the beach a girl, and the girl has a family
and the family has a house. And the house has two windows and a door . . .
and in the sea a warship passes the time while hunting pedestrians
on the shore: four, five, seven
fall on the sand. And the girl survives for a little bit
because a hand of fog
some kind of divine hand rescues her. So she calls: Father
O father! Get up, let's go back, the sea is not for our kind!
PINES AND APPLES: ON PURE AND APPLIED ART
Ever-cautious Canadians are seeking to understand Afghanistan, may even be willing to read poetic perspectives about terrorism, to ingest poems about the origins and effects of war and the wisdom of peace. It's likely that Canadians are no longer satisfied with curt language shared by military and political spokespeople, who talk of "getting the job done," without clarifying what the job is. It could be that a contingent of 52 poets under the name "Convergence," 1who hand-delivered peace poems wrapped in original art to Ottawa Parliamentarians throughout 2001, who held a reading at the National Arts Centre four days after September 11, swayed the vote that kept Canada out of Iraq at a time when public opinion polls claimed that Canadians favoured war.
POETRY AND PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
“Why did you go to Israel and Palestine? To Turkey?” is the most common question asked following my three-week trip in November. When I left, I thought I knew. I had met Souliman al-Khatib on Bainbridge Island (WA), the first Palestinian to whom I ever really listened. He served ten years in an Israeli prison for his role in the stabbing of two Israeli soldiers. Now he was touring the United States to talk about hope and the value of compassionate listening. In prison, he learned Hebrew (as well as English): “They gave me an education.” When he was released, he co-founded Combatants for Peace, Palestinians and Jews who teach how to find solutions to their problems without violence. If this Arab could feel hope, could imagine a solution to the Arab-Jew conflict, I wanted to listen. Nothing, I thought from where I sat, could be more despairing than this particular Middle East conflict.
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He had thought he might, this time, march
though when he reached the park and found the ibis
had been forced to take refuge in the trees,
when he heard the usual speakers making peace
into politics, he went off to find a coffee shop.
As soon as it began to move, he edged his way
into what his Prime Minister would later call the mob
and walked, watching how the city's tall buildings eye
each other off and keeping to himself those pieces of quiet
that now and then fell from the thick cuts of noise.
He did not, as instructed, cry against
the air: “NO WAR! NO WAR!”