Do you think that poets have ethical responsibilities to communities and to the world? Why or why not?
Poets, like fiction writers, often make things up. Can you use your imagination … to speak the truth? Why is this a morally complex process?
Can a poet enter so far into someone else’s experience as to be able to legitimately express that other person’s experience? Can a man do this for woman? A white man for a black man? A professor for a carpenter? Or the reverse? Why are such voicings aesthetically and ethically difficult?
POETRY LESSON # 13: Bearing witness to the truth
Poetry can powerfully speak the truth to culture. Today we reflect on how and why. We must ask ourselves questions about the world around us and our possible responses to it in order to write meaningfully about issues that matter.
Watch the documentary, “The Poetry of Resilience.”
Voice, tone, diction, and point of view are all essential elements of a poem that bears witness to truth, especially the truth about injustice and the suffering it causes. (Avoiding cliché expressions is particularly important!) Review a poem of witness that effectively uses voice, tone, diction, and point of view to bear witness to the truth. Then consider how you can do the same in one of your own poems.
Read Dante, selections from The Divine Comedy
Read Edward Hirsch, “Elegy for the Jewish Villages”
Read Marilyn Nelson, selections from “Fortune’s Bones”
Read Kwame Dawes, selections from Gomer’s Song
What truth do you want to bear witness to? What events in history? What experiences of people who have no voice? Write poems that speak the truth.
Poets not only bear witness to the truth, but they also celebrate and commemorate the joyous occasions in their communities. Begin to meditate on poems of celebration and commemoration. Do you see yourself as a poet working in these modes now or in the future?