In keeping with Why Do I Write Poetry, the following poem is one I wrote many at about the same time. This is the third time I visited the poem in terms of writing and editing. Several years ago and while explaining the importance of teaching poetry, a student asked if I wrote poetry in junior high school and I responded, “Yes!”. He asked me to share with them. I found them in a small lock box I keep at home and shared several with the class. We talked about the context I wrote the poem in. Even in Canada, I lived in the shadow of the Vietnam conflict and struggled with what that meant.
Sam Intrator suggested teachers expose adolescent students complex, existential questions of life as they move through those formative years. I wrote my poems in 1969. It was a time when identity was increasingly rooted in a global nature of the world, not just immediate community and family. War entered homes via television. Increasingly, I discovered my voice through poetry, expressing an abhorrence to institutional and government sanctioned killing. What set me apart from my peers, was I took no sides. Each was equally wrong in my mind, advancing their ideological stance. My teacher, Mr. McKenzie, an innovative English teacher, encouraged us to discover our voices.
I shared the following poem with my students. We talked about how metaphors of war are used commonly in various institutions and how I found this as troubling as the violence and trauma of war. That feeling re-emerged over the past months with describing dealing with Covid-19 in war-like terms and the troubling events of the past weeks where purported leaders feel it is OK to speak about human beings, not citizens, as an enemy and objects to be manipulated for financial gain based on the basest forms of self-interests. It is worse than the war as it takes on invisible and pervasive forms. It is a form of Social Darwinism where the strong survive, trampling on those further down what is understood as a food chain premised on unfettered oppression of other humans, including various forms of systemic violence. Consider billionaires, in the Covid-19 crisis, gained while those in most need lose what little support they had.
I contrast this with Jacinda Ardern‘s message as the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In The Atlantic, Uri Friedman describes her as an empathetic leader. What emerged in reading the article was we de-serve better leadership, mindful, transforming, serving, etc. focusing on people as humans, not objects.
Students asked me to share poems and I did, with the context within which I wrote them. Parents, who were in the classroom each day, asked about my candour. I responded “I am not about changing minds. I try to change how each student thinks about the world, to see under the surface, reveal a sordid underbelly, and revel in the wonderfulness of human life.” This is a hopeful message, and the leadership we need is evident e.g. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Mary Wollenstonecroft, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Soujouner Truth, Rosa Parks, etc.
Win or Lose: What Difference Does it Make?
No great thing to win.
War and it language!
Bells ringing hollow,
Men, women, children gone!
Woe! vanquished losers and winners;
Humans, vanquished in every sense–
Thriving on dividing.
On countless graves.
Blaming the fallen,
Homes on streets,
What war brings?
What war brings?
Will we learn?
For human survival.
I leave you with the following video and song. We listened to Harry Belafonte, and I still do, with his uplifting and hopeful message. We are in this together, not against one another, with each other.
I’ve also been troubled by the metaphors of war and the strange, heartbreaking ways this shapes both perception and action. One particular aspect of this is the sense of binary it evokes: living/dead, healthy/unhealthy, safe/unsafe. It conceals the way that these things exist on spectrums; that one could survive COVID or a brutal police encounter and yet nevertheless be shattered in ways not capable of capture in such binary “win-or-lose” frameworks.
As I type this, the book Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity is next to my right knee. I’ve only read the introduction, but I’m already excited by how many more nuanced words I might, in its reading, gain to explain my concerns. I’m impressed by how much you’re able to say in a paragraph! That capacity seems light-years away in my skill levels. Perhaps I need write more poetry to improve my succinct-ing skills? 😉
Thank you for a wonderful comment. How you explicate the binary is very Derrida-like. He said we cannot think of on thing e.g. life without considering its flip side e.g. death. There is no real boundary between them per se, but, often, we are encouraged to think in those binary ways.
I will have to look for that book. It sounds interesting.
I read a lot of poetry. In my other writing (peer-reviewed work), I tend to struggle with being as succinct.
For me, “proving nothing” is the phrase that speaks volumes. Now I understand why I’ve shunned the books about war. Here, I could feel the voice of the Angry Young Poet that reverberates around us even today, with a universal message. Thank you for sharing.
You are welcome Balroop. Language forms the world we live in. Beginning with how we speak and act towards one another can go a long way to helping us understand each other.
We are fed on duality, rather than Unity, or Oneness of Being, and it creates selfishness, otherness, separateness and therefore conflict.
Teaching we are all One, and what affect one it affect All, is the key to avoid conflict.
Nice poem. 🙂
Thank you Brigido. Yes, it is a challenge in a world where we are educated to dichotimize the world and relationships.
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