This week has been blessed with the opportunity to visit poets in a variety of settings, from workshops offering critiques to groups that function as each other’s support to a group that prompts each other to write, to generate new art.
What struck me most about these diverse groups is the desire to be supportive. Regardless of the structure, regardless of the experience level.
The poems exchanged each caused us to look at some aspect of the world differently – a far cry from the daily social media debates that seek to squash difference. Sides in the normal settings come armed with a set of ‘facts’ gleaned from reputed news sources around the world.
Facts have become a commodity, with a set of facts for every taste. Each point of view, no matter how destructive and no matter how fallacious, can find nourishment from a group with a specific agenda. The only limit to the ‘facts’ you can find to support your prejudice is the distance you are willing to travel out on the fringe of reason.
The facts in these cases are devoid of context. I can make the statement that members of a certain religion have carried out 23 attacks in this year so far. While the number may be correct, the number does not identify who was being attacked, and where the attacks took place. Without the context the ‘fact’ becomes a source of fear where the listener assumes a greater danger to self.
I was originally talking about poetry.
Which arises from the explosions, both literal and figurative, happening around us.
The difference is that poetry, by telling the story of the one who is living in the history making events of our time, tells a deeper story than any fact could. Perhaps it is the mother of a victim of one of the 23 attacks. Perhaps the victim is from a different country than the news led us to believe. Perhaps the bomber is from the place whose flag we are waving. Or perhaps the truth falls in line with what we suspected. We learn from poetry that likely all three stories can be true, and often are.
Whatever we learn from the poem we are hearing tonight in our group – at its best -- we will be sure that it will tell us a story that will cause us to step outside of our comfort zone and to see something we were not expecting. We will learn to question what maybe we were taught as children to accept and maybe, as a result, we will look at the person approaching us with a look of empathy and learn to treat them as the person they are. That is what we are supporting when we read together, and when we listen.