It’s an old Quaker saying — one I’ve always loved. The saying hearkens back to the 1950s, although it has taken on a life of its own. It goes well w/ a poem I read today, “Albatross in Co. Antrim,” where poet Robin Robertson likens today’s poet to the unlucky albatross: The poet is like this prince of the clouds/ who rides the storm of war and scorns the archer; /exiled on the ground, in all this derision,/ his giant wings prevent his marching.
In some countries, writers are not only honoured, but actually feared. When rebels in a small Latin American dictatorship wanted the plight of citizens made public, they contacted the poet Carolyn Forché, whose subsequent poem ‘The Colonel‘ became a sensation, with its brutally beautiful images of tyranny and cruelty. Forché said she demurred initially, when asked to go to El Salvador, arguing that she was ‘just a poet.’ But the persuasive El Salvadoran urging her to come responded that poets in his country were feared. And that when Forché returned, she would write poetry that would help Americans see the truth. And then things would change.
Speak knowledge to power. Beginner’s heart. Poets, beginners, all of us who feel that to speak up for those who lack voices (or the power to make themselves heard) is critical work. And it’s work we need desperately as the poor go unfed, and the ill untreated, and the homeless unhoused. When profit becomes more important to power than peace and kindness, we all need to speak up.