In his famous elegy for W. B. Yeats, W. H. Auden says, “poetry makes nothing happen.” He adds: “it survives,/A way of happening, a mouth.”
In response to Auden, please join our Zoom reading on April 2, 2022 at 2 pm EST. This “Oh!Sound Reading” will feature many of the poets below. Details are posted on https://www.rsitoski.com/event-details/poets-in-response-to-peril. Please respond there if you can join us for National Poetry Month. Along with host Richard-Yves Sitoski, we will be celebrating How Poems Matter. Why Poems Matter.
How do poets respond to precarious events in the world? Susan McCaslin writes : “On Feb. 24, 2022, when the world woke to the shock of the catastrophic bombing of Ukraine, I asked myself and a few of my fellow poet friends how they would respond to Auden’s words, especially in these perilous times.” Susan and I discussed this line from Auden and continued with our own reflections on activism through poetry in this “Dialogue: Reflections on W.H. Auden’s ‘Poetry Makes Nothing Happen’”: https://www.inanna.ca/2018/11/29/art-action-transformation/.
I continued curating this project, with thanks to all the contributing poets. It’s published on March FORTH, the only day of the year that is a command! See The London Free Press column on Saturday, March 5 on https://lfpress.com/entertainment/local-arts/poets-are-talking-tough-and-their-words-make-a-difference with a video of my introduction to our project and a video reading of two poems for Ukraine up on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqEczOl0OyQ. Thanks to the LFP for their ongoing support of poetry! Here’s to peace with freedom!
How Poems Matter. Why Poems Matter.
Poetry makes the song of the heart shape the architecture the eye creates.” Jim Andrews
“I mean this little visual as a statement of how poetry can matter. I feel that it can place us in the meaningful nexus between being epistemological warriors and worriers. Both meaningful positions to consider the world. Poetry makes nothing happen? It does make things happen in terms of epistemology, both as a view on the outside world and one’s internal world.” Gary Barwin
“Poetry makes nothing obvious, nothing earth-shaking happen. At first. But it’s a slow ignition that can light up your life later, on the right day, at the right time, right when you need it most.” Kate Braid
“In the dark hours we place a bird beside a crumbled citadel, a voice inside a crowded tunnel, a mother singing in her mother tongue to a baby who cannot sleep. The image, metaphor, voice resonates with the rhythms of heart beat and pulse, this for me is poetry. Where we turn in the dark and in the light.” Yvonne Blomer
“The poet’s lampoon must never go dull. Poetry precisely pricks the diplomatic bubble mask with such elegant savagery. Poetry without provocation is a seed without soil. Poets are society’s second government of conscience and dissent. Poets are language light-bearers in darker times. Poets are historians capturing a community’s tragedies and triumphs. We record and share our humanity so others can identify, empathize, and be inspired. Helping to bring wholeness to the human journey when hearts are broken. A poem is a small act as contemporary artist Ai Weiwei says on taking action: “A small act is worth a million thoughts.” Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves, they can do a little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving. — statement in the cemetery where Jackson Pollock is buried.” David C. Brydges
“Tyrants hate poets: Ovid was exiled by Augustus, Mandelstam was killed by Stalin, Neruda banished by Pinochet, Hikmet imprisoned in Turkey. When I hear the word Putin I reach for my sonnet!”
“Poetry is the translation of silences into words.” Sadiqa de Meijer
“When I woke up to the news of war I had no words. And spent a few days disoriented. I stumbled upon a recording I did for the “slow erosions” chapbook launch in January 2021. These poems anchored me, opened a space and I have listened to them since many times and shared with friends. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpr6Vpkw8d0&list=PLhdtAvxoVAXFJJj9a_pUXRCsAUN-TWawy” Daniela Elza
“Poetry is the place where the light gets into a person’s heart and mind on darker days. It’s the way hope lives in the world, saying ‘yes’ even when everything else seems to say ‘no.’ Poetry transports, transforms, and transmutes. It’s strong magic, and words have power—especially in the face of apathy or tyranny. Poetry asks you to pay attention, to observe, to be the witness, and then it asks you to write the words down on paper and give them a clear, true voice.” Kim Fahner
“Auden also wrote, ‘But it survives/ A way of happening, a mouth.’” In perilous times, poetry is hope, and hope is awareness. Hope is clarity.” Carolyn Forché. Carolyn also gave us permission to add this link to a reading on March 1 of “Voices for Ukraine–Words together, Worlds apart.”
The reading inspired this little poem:
When Ilya Kaminsky thanks
Carolyn Forché for her reading
dedicated to the city of Odessa
“where two things were esteemed,
poetry and ships”–in the subtitle
below, his word “reading” appears
aptly as “vineyard”.
“Poetry homes right into the heart and soul and this wisdom is essential as the world spins out of alignment. For too long, poetry has been marginalized; it needs to be central to daily living and acting to manifest inclusion, peace and communal care for everyone.” Katerina Fretwell
Gary Snyder, quoted by Kerry Gilbert below.
“You do what you can, as a citizen, and as a poet. Poetry, it seems to me, pushes against the degradation of language, and opens a space for the human.” Robert Girvan
“Poetry, especially when it is read aloud, can stir the most hardened heart to all that is possible. Poetry may well be our (and the Earth’s) most potent hope.” Heidi Greco
“Poems connect us.
They are ambassadors when grief blinds us, when joy takes our breath away, when memories visit in the night and don’t leave a name.
Poems are rhythms of peace in a world of ancient battles.
They offer refuge from the front lines when there is little to believe or trust.
They offer a map to the heart, a path otherwise lost.
And finally, poems are followed by silence, the space between words, the knowing that cannot be told with language.” Diana Hayes
“A LITTLE NOTHING: POETRY MATTERS
When words fail, war is apt for displaying insanity.
Does matter matter? In wars of words, matter dissembles, lies.
It’s said, meter matters, metrics matter,
think of Fiona Hill: “…he wouldn’t, would he? Well, yes, he would.”
It’s said, maters matter, mother-tongues matter, meaning matters,
sometimes something trumps nothing
sometimes something lies amidst the branches of insulation
sometimes something lies
in the valley of its un-making
some times a thing — a too busy grief
some times no thing
for now, better, no thing
a word-less nothing”
“Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, all the arts, including “folk arts” nourish Life itself and celebrate the creativity of the human spirit and address the Why of being alive. War destroys Life. Some arts remind us of that destruction: ‘Guernica,’ war symphonies, and graphic expressions of death. Arts also can evoke Being itself, even capturing the love and mystical sense of harmony that quietly permeate all the energy-events in the Universe. Above all, poetry and its companion arts embody that sense of Presence in our mutual humanity and aspirations of the spirit. To the No of destructive forces, they are the everlasting Yes to Life.” Lee Johnson
“As Wislawa Szymborska writes, ‘Poetry isn’t recreation, a respite from life. It is life.’ Poetry is also a hiatus, a lift out of the daily round. Just as we support white Ukraine, may we support all activists against tyranny. May we celebrate peace with freedom.
From FAST POEM for UKRAINE
The dark day we saw
coming. We heard it
coming. But we thought
we could for-
Disbelief and shock there.
Disbelief and shock here.
Will new and expanded
sanctions work? Tears
are never enough. As if
poems could help. As
if words would work.
“We now have war in Europe
that is of a scale and type
unparalleled in history.”
“This will not shake Europe.”
But it already has.
May Kyiv keep safe beneath the holy
mantle of Maty Zemlya, Mother Earth
as if prayers are enough. Send money.
‘Prove that you are with us. Prove
that you will not let us go,’ demands
President Volodymyr Zelensky of us.”
“My most recent effort is a poem trying to express how crucial battered old trees are for wildlife—the very ones people (including most arborists) would deem hazardous. Every tree matters to something alive, and the dead and dying sometimes most of all. I confess I hope the poem saves trees.” Chris Lowther
“Because poetry’s nothing is so much better than a poetryless nothing.
Because Auden also wrote “we must love one another or die.” Tanis MacDonald
“Though poetry may change nothing in Auden’s sense, it has the power to transform consciousness. Change for the betterment of the whole is incremental when in the seed state, but capable of blossoming in the fulness of time. Poetry has the power to open hearts and minds to what poet and novelist Joy Kogawa calls “the arc of goodness.” Susan McCaslin
“Poetry is the voice of the spaces between the words, of the heart between the beats, of the caught breath before the long exhale. It’s not a naming of what we feel and perceive and think and imagine, but a net to capture all of those in its evocations and place them in our hands, to weave our own tale. Poetry hums and sings and says what can’t be said.” Susan McMaster
“No one goes to war for a poem. If the world were filled with poets, and those who read poetry, perhaps the only conflict would be the shortage of time in which to appreciate them all.” Sandra Nicholls
“A n d P o e t r y S t a r t e d t o R u s h O u t
A hole opened in the sky
And poetry started to rush out
At first we thought there must be so much poetry
It would take forever to empty the world
But each poem stretched the hole wider
And so now we must get to work again
We must breathe into the word
And let language rise up among us
If there is no poetry left in the world
Our kind will die forever
Without poetry we will not walk
Into the middle of the river
Just to see what’s done
To our reflections by the waves
Quicker than time can drag poetry
Gasping away forever
We must make up the new world
New words new ways”
“Poetry takes one view of the world and smashes it, giving the writer — and in turn the reader — a way to reassemble it, examine it, reassess it.” R L Raymond
“I’ve always read that Auden quote — “poetry makes nothing happen” — from a somewhat Buddhist perspective. Nothing. Emptiness. The radiant creative void. Poetry makes it happen.” Murray Reiss
“There is a thickening, the moment water seeping from wetness forms a drop, just before it falls as the watering called in shorthand water and another forms from the wet. Thickening is the opening in the world that forms awareness, that tradition calls the self. It is a shell, that gathers life in and then gives it away. Call that the skull, if you like, a shallow bowl, a shawl, and a shaping. There is space that holds memory, that minds it, then pours it out into other cups, from which people drink it down, in repetition of the original thickening. It is good, they say, to the last drop. It can be found in gardens, wells and the sound of feet on shore that is called sand and gravel, after feet call them to the ear. When tamed, and harnessed, it is called the self, and moves into worlds of artifice. In that form, wild things, that shift by the world’s will, avoid its halters. It can, however, be the passing on of breath, formed in lungs, throat, mouth and with tongue and palette and lip, and in that form it carries through air to a listening ear, which reforms its dance as sound. When the eye joins in, this sound becomes the tracks of birds on paper. To be complete, a voice must complete the triad and lift it again into the air, dancing it again in the mouth.”
“As poet Don McKay writes, ‘poetry makes “nothing” HAPPEN. Gives the mute heart a tongue, awakens somnolent minds, brings memories back to life and life to conscious engagement.’”
“from WHY POETRY?
Why poetry or any art
in this time of planetary crisis?
how can a mere scatter of words
bright strokes of a brush
or melodies loosed to the wind
stay the daily dying off
of species we will never see again?…
Auden on the death of Yeats
bitterly laments in almost tuneless mourning
that poetry ‘makes nothing happen’
but finds the faith to move on
makes bleakness blossom
in measured blank verse
until it blooms in lofty rhyme
affirming art in a ferocious time.”
“Living the last years in my hometown Sarajevo which survived the four years’ long siege, I noticed many of my friends often reached to poetry books dealing with war, rather than to history books that make every single life looks like numbers. Watching on TV the attack on Ukraine, the only thing I can write now, as a survivor, is a short poem:
Warrior, if you come back to your hometown in uniform
Everybody will ask you how many enemies you killed
But once changing your clothes
Nobody will ask you
How many times you were killed
On your way back home.”
“Poetry connects us through space and time, through, between and beyond the words themselves. ” Christine Smart
“The nothing that poetry makes happen is pure potential. It’s Zen mushin space. It’s chaos in the original sense of the term, the yawning void that precedes matter and order. It’s a charged emptiness, an electric paradox, infinitude which has the wherewithal to (ful)fill itself. Poetry restores the primacy of the unknown, the unknowable, the unnameable. Poetry is for those of us who find meaning not in answers, but in questions.” Richard-Yves Sitoski
“Poetry is our body’s knowledge. Seeping from blood to ink, where the senses meet soul. Poetry creates bridges from the invisible to visible, crossing all borders. It writes us anew in the midst of hardship and companions us as a lover.” Celeste Snowber
“THIS VAST ROBE
Wear this vast robe together
Repair the vast robe together
Share ‘this’ – our one Vast Robe
Roberta Pyx Sutherland
“Poetry reminds us of our deepest humanity. It is the human spirit expressed in language, pulling us back to what inspires and lightens the soul: hope, empathy, faith in the possibility of a future despite history’s continual attempts to eradicate it.” Eva Tihanyi
“Here, in the cemetery,
you see the oddest people
with flowers, all searching
for a place they know
and bruised over the place
where the heart is.
When I come here–which I do
only in words–I tell them to walk
slowly, to look for every bit of death
they can find in the works of art
around them: life is buried there,
where we go.“
MTC Cronin, quoted by Sharon Thesen
“Poetry can go beyond prose, bypass intellectualization, and enter an intuitional realm that connects with each of us on a deep emotional and spiritual level. When this happens there is an extraordinary resonance and true transformation becomes possible, indeed almost inevitable.” Jennifer Wenn
“Sometimes poetry is the invisible thread, the line, that connects us to our own humanity, humility. Realms open – hearts, bodies, spirits, minds. The poem flies into our beings – to unravel the unravelling world.” Sheri-D Wilson
“Poetry as the voice of the heart strings is how it matters.” Elana Wolff
Two Poems for Ukraine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqEczOl0OyQ. Video: Mike Hensen