Jane Yolen’s book, Take Joy, is big treasure. It is a collection of good advice and clear examples. Today, a busy, sore day of preschool and errands, I found my only real inspiration in anger. There aren’t too many Anger Poems out there. There are soapboxy poems, and poetry about anger, but not too many where you can feel the frustration burning off the page. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, right at this moment, but I’ll find some tomorrow. Also, I don’t really want to disparage soapboxy poems at all. I love them. Usually I only love them if I happen to agree with the figure on the soapbox, but that is my own bias showing. I do love an impassioned throw-down of a poem, especially one performed by someone who puts their passion on display.
Anyhow, one of the little tid-bits in Take Joy is “Be Wary of Preaching”. In this section, Yolen writes, “Preach without P is reach. I would much rather reach my audience than preach to it”. This is good advice, I think, for fiction, where the moral lessons should be learned through the situations and decisions of its characters, but what to do with an issue that makes you want to screamin’ poem? What to do when the audience in front of your soapbox is ignorant and armed? Then, I think, a little preaching is okay.
The only thing I felt like writing down today is a soapbox issue. But now, at the end of my rather trying and exhausting day, all I have are a few scribbles written in a flurry between the grocery trip and laundry. God I hate laundry. No worries. I did not write a hate poem about laundry. yet. But, so here’s the thing: now I have to write the damn thing. And I’m faced with either half-assing it because I’m tired and it’s late and bed beckons, or trying to write something else without a single clue what that might be. I just voiced this frustration to my husband, who is really starting to improve his pep talks, and told me something that could be pretty useful. The soapbox will always be there, he said. You can write the same-ish poem again and again. Artists have meditations on themes. Leave it as opening the door, and you can walk through as many times as you need to get it right. He’s a smart man, that one.
In this little clip, Robert Coover says that “art harmonizes the disharmonious”.
That is a good, grand idea. I don’t believe that any God, Guns, and Constitution people are going to suddenly become content to give up their AR-15s and take up origami crane folding on the off-chance they happen to read a poem about school shootings and the military-industrial complex, but I DO believe that my like-minded, peace-warrior friends might get a little energized, a little fired up even, and I think that alone is worth the attempt. And even if it is just an attempt, I still think it’s better than nothing.
Like Husbandpants said, I’m just opening the door here.
Musket Loading–or, Thoughts Toward a Curriculum of Peace
Step One: Prime and Load.
Awhile back, a month or two ago,
or was it two-hundred and twenty-seven years,
some men sat in a very hot room, and signed this paper with their quills. Usually pheasant, sometimes turkey.
Their wigs itched. They wore tights. And because they feared so for their baby nation and because the mother countries had way more ships,
They scratched in the idea that states might someday need to get organized.
The wig men signed in big, beautiful, loopy cursive, and later, on the turkey hunt, they took their time loading the muskets.
Step Two: Handle Cartridge
It’s a silly little moment that gets this feeling going, spurred, maybe, by the willing hands of the babies in front of their teacher who are learning about Bees.
“Who knows something about Bees?” she asks. “I have a bb gun”, the boy answers, and all his friends nod their heads and raise their hands and at the same time they say, “Me too”. “And me.” “And me”.
And what’s wrong with a bb gun? Aimed at a target, by a boy who’s been well-trained? Even the one who keeps running into the wall with his head? Is it just because of the recently-forgotten anniversary of the dead babies in Connecticut that his hand in the air reports fire in my mind?
Step Three: Prime
But no. It is because this is a feedback loop of blood.
We’ve invited tragedy to move in and get comfortable because of imaginary menaces. We’ve let profit this take this city on a hill down. We have armies of bees with big stingers. We slice and dice our combat like surgeons, cutting from afar and across battle lines that disappear as soon as they are drawn. We let fear throttle might and Loud outshout American. These, our unchanging hands filled with money, Our slavish masculinity, Our Us versus Them,
Our stagnant disharmonies
kill small babies. Many, and all at once.
Step Four: About
In the Lockdown, quickly glance outside the hall and get remaining students inside. Lock the door and lower the blinds.
Look for the Safe Corner.
Whisper the poetry you know by heart. Wait for the all clear. Even if you have been told you have to be armed, know that you are no Chuck Norris or Navy Seal. The only way you will hero your way out of this is by keeping calm, and teaching on.
Step Five: Draw Ramrods
In the bomb factories where grandmothers work, you just ask them. You’ll see. They’ll say they’d rather be making toys in a toy factory, but work is work.
Work is not just work. This is the machine of death.
I’m not sure how the grandmothers fit in, but I know that when war is profitable, war happens. And when arms sales are up, so are the tolls here. Right here.
Step Six: Ram Down Cartridge
Are we so lazy? Aren’t we too grown for Good Guys and Bad Guys?
Come, let’s adopt a curriculum of peace. If I can show you the profit in it? And this will be this, in pre-k, right between the days of the week song and the Pledge of Striving for Peace: “There is no Good Guy versus Bad Guy. No Us and Them, but only Us and Us.”
Step Seven: Make Ready and Aim
Talk no more of your God, Guns, and ancient paper. That parchment is crumbling and curling.
I’ll tell you what I know about God. He’s very confused by you, because you seem to have forgotten that we come,
naked and bloody into the hands of our mothers,
who are all the defense we need,
Step Eight: Fire
– Charlotte Bacon,
– Daniel Barden,
– Rachel Davino,
– Olivia Engel,
– Josephine Gay,
– Ana M. Marquez-Greene,
– Dylan Hockley,
– Dawn Hochsprung,
– Madeleine F. Hsu,
– Catherine V. Hubbard,
– Chase Kowalski,
– Jesse Lewis,
– James Mattioli ,
– Grace McDonnell,
– Anne Marie Murphy,
– Emilie Parker,
– Jack Pinto,
– Noah Pozner
– Caroline Previdi
– Jessica Rekos
– Avielle Richman
– Lauren Rousseau
– Mary Sherlach
– Victoria Soto
– Benjamin Wheeler
– Allison N. Wyatt
ARGH THAT WAS SO FRUSTRATING. I want this to be so, so much better than it is. Those names above deserve a better effort. Also, I believe that it can be better, but given that I only gave myself this short window at the end of this day to write, I can’t do anything about it right now. Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I can’t keep going about slapping together mediocre poetry and actually putting it into the world. Revision is a good, important thing, and I miss it. Feeling dejected. Sorry if I bummed you out before bedtime, my poem friends. Heh, Tuesday.