For Monday, February 22, 2016:
“Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.”
“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth.”
Part of me wishes we were still in the era of smoky coffeehouses and Beat poetry. Those single, individual poets spoke – one at a time – for those who couldn’t, and for those who weren’t aware enough to know that they should. Another part of me is glad we aren’t still there, as much as I’m grateful for their courage and example.
Gradually those voices grew in number and volume. “The times, they were a-changing,” and calls for revolution, for ‘speaking truth to power,’ were heard in poetry and song and underground newspapers, on the streets, soap boxes, and college campuses, from jail cells to concert halls to muddy farmlands. The ‘establishment’ was horrified, of course, but over time the voices for change eventually led to much-needed and new ways of thinking, doing, and being.
There’s still much work to be done, of course, and today’s political cacophony – or circus, as some pundits have dubbed it – is evidence of that. Look around, though, and you can still find poets, writers, songwriters, and artists on the stage, the front lines, and smack dab in the middle of marches. You probably know some personally. Maybe you’re among them.
I’ve long pondered why artists are such political creatures, why so many end up being change agents in big and small ways. Is there something in their genetic makeup? It’s such a general truth, though, that I think art schools and writing curricula should include – if they don’t already – classes on protesting and revolution because, more than likely, their students will need to know what to expect.
Perhaps we’re political because we’re creative, we’re intimate with the creative process. We see possibilities, we can see beauty in people and places that others can’t. Conversely, we can see terror or heartbreak or loneliness that others can’t, and that propels us to do anything to make others understand and change all that. We see beyond what is static in front of our eyes, we can make the intuitive leap into imagination and something better.
We help open the doors and the gates behind which so many are trapped, where so many cower, either from their fear of being thought wrong or because they are seen as different.
Whether we incite change alone or with others, quietly or loudly, slowly or quickly, we owe it to those whose shoulders – whose words, songs, visual art – we stand on to continue the good fight. The world needs artists to be aware for those who aren’t. The world needs artists to protect and give voice to the truth and to those who can’t speak for themselves.
Thank you for being an artist.