Friday, March 31, 2017

Poetry "Speaks Truth to Power" in These Troubled Times

The Sunday, March 12, 2017 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle’s book section announces that it has just begun a new weekly feature, “State Lines: California Poetry.“ Every Sunday, it will publish a poem by a California writer, or a poem about California. The announcement goes on to note that “the appearance of poetry in public forums is more important than ever before. When language – even the language of verified truth and scientific fact – is attacked by the institutions we rely on for safety and prosperity, poetry plays a vital role. Not only does poetry offer us comfort and moral nourishment, but it speaks truth to power” (p. 35). Amen to that. As the article points out, publishing poetry in newspapers used to be more common in the distant past; I welcome this small move toward wider exposure of poetry. And while I am on the subject, I thank the general interest magazines that do publish poetry regularly, most notably The New Yorker, but also The Atlantic and The Nation, among others. The inaugural poem in this new San Francisco Chronicle feature is “Almost Livin’ Almost Dyin’: For all the Dead,” by Juan Felipe Herrera, the current U.S. poet laureate and former California poet laureate. The poem is “a breathless, breakneck poem” that “teeters, like life itself, between mourning and praise”(p. 35). It references many of the issues of today, including racism and the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

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