“On Poetry and Social Responsibility”
by Michael Graves – Poet
Poetry is one of the most dangerous, most powerful, and one of the most unorganized forces in the world.
Consider the effect that a single poet can create on the human psyche.
Shakespeare, Rumi, Rimbaud, Dylan, Poe, Pound, Dickinson, Baudelaire, Cummings, Neruda, Yeats, Plath, Ginsberg, Burns, Bukowski, Dylan Thomas, Blake, Frost, Wordsworth, Whitman, and countless others.
Poetry combined with music was powerful enough to play an important part in helping to change the social face of my country in the 1960’s. If you were there to witness it, you know exactly what I mean. One of the most famous pieces of poetry of that decade begins: “How many roads must a man walk down/before you call him a man…”
Poetry soothes the aching heart. It kindles the flame of love. It is a precursor to inspiration. It calls men to sail a sea that they otherwise might not. Poetry performs a catalytic function between conditions: a bridge between disassociation and engagement; between non-involvement and responsibility; between denial and consideration.
At some point, a piece of poetry left a mark on you that was indelible. You still can recall it. That quality in poetry can bring change to the world – literally.
If poetry is not also used to bring about needed change in social and political conditions, it denies a fundamental aspect of its basic purpose, and to this degree and in this way, it lies fallow.
Poetry is not bound by physical barriers. It is not stopped by walls. It can infiltrate elitist compounds, and pierce the walls of fortresses and prisons. It can bypass embargoes as easily as a breeze travels down a city street. I am writing from a redwood forest in California. You are reading this. Distance is not a barrier to poetry.
One of the reasons that poets are held in contempt by those who use force to suppress, is that while poets command the very, very real skills to inflame the spirit of those who are oppressed and move them to active social change or even open, violent revolt; that ability is far too often used by poets for nothing beyond introverted maunderings, voiced in cautious, hushed, whiny tones. As a result, suppressors find spitting on poets a very safe thing to do.
Poetry is powered by the human spirit. It is carried in the hearts and minds of the people. Historically, ideas have toppled empires. All social movements – all of the changes in history – have been sparked by communication.
“…I am the song on the lips
I am sire to the million whispers in the night;
before the riotous dawn.
I am the throbbing life blood;
the hope that breathes yet, beneath the heel
of the iron boot.
And awaits its time.
And I am that time
which will come.
I am the driver of men, beyond broad, deadly
for new worlds.
I am the line
plotted past the edge of charts.
I am the dreams beyond those
I am the new voice of songs yet
to be formed on the lips of
those yet to be born.
And I am the dawn
of a new Age…”
Poetry once lacked the proper distribution system. We now have a distribution system which is more powerful than any in the history of Earth – the Internet. Change can now potentially take place “one reader at a time” on a very, very broad scale. Poetry does not need to sway six billion people in order to achieve its goal. It only has to reach and affect those with significant influence, or reach a significant number of people, for change to occur.
What if we had a million poets creating life-changing pieces in a wave which is directed at a single point of oppression? Or directed at a focused, few points of suppression? Think about it. What kind of effect might we then create?
It is time to send the tyrants screaming into the night, pursued by a wave of voices that no number of bullets can ever kill.
Poetry can change the world. But only if it is wielded, not proffered. Get organized. Pass it on.
“Night Must Fall on the Regime”
The time has come.
Night must fall on the regime.
You, whose proper function is to serve.
You, who turn your country on the roasting spit of oppression,
charring humanity to black flakes over
the painful fires of violence; seasoned
with the smell of fear.
This is not the way of humanity!
You do not speak for me!
You could once commit your perverted crimes shrouded in secrecy.
But now, worldwide
awareness of your atrocities is just a URL click away.
The video taken with the phone of
the man in the street – upon whose neck
you once could stand with impunity
– and posted to the web, makes
secrecy no longer your option.
No longer your shield.
To sit silent and do nothing while you continue, degrades me
and stains each of my brothers and sisters with shame.
To permit you to persist, reduces the humanity of each one
of the inhabitants of Earth.
This is NOT the way of a leader.
This is not the way of humanity.
A populace is NOT your collection of personal toys
to be played with, and bled!
You pathetic, wanton child!
There is no pride in this.
Stalin was thus.
Hitler was thus.
George III was thus.
The Masters of the Inquisition were thus.
These are your brothers-in-spirit.
If the only reasoning that you will respond to
is a knife at your throat,
then consider that you are now on notice.
Your lies and deceit will birth the bloody tumult.
I weep for your countrymen.
I weep for my brothers and sisters.
It is time.
Night must fall on the regime.
I am the poet.
And I live in a billion minds.
We are the dreamers of dreams.
And we will prevail.
Your remains will blow away on the fresh winds of morning
before the rising sun of a new day.
There are a million voices waiting to take my place.
A million songs being honed.
A sky-full of razor-sharp arrows that are all aimed at your heart.
Our songs live in the minds of your people.
Our songs form the million whispers in the night
before the riotous dawn.
Our songs feed the throbbing life-blood of hope
that breathes yet beneath the heel of the iron boot.
Awaiting its time.
And that time has come.
For the sake of humanity.
For the sake of songs yet to be formed
on the lips of those yet to be born.
Night will fall on the regime.
You cannot dull my advance.
Your suppression only sharpens
my quill and broadens my legend.
We live as one unturnable wave of forward motion.
And we speak for humanity.
We will outlive you.
We will outlast you.
You who would crush all hope.
You are my enemy.
This is personal.
I am the singer of songs.
I am the dreamer of dreams.
My brothers and sisters and I inspire the future, and craft
the inspirational blade that even now thirsts for your throat.
There are more poets on Earth than you can count.
And more than you can ever crush.
You cannot stop us.
The time has come.
fall on the regime.
… … … … … … … …
Author’s Note: Though this piece was originally written about poetry, its premise applies to all forms of art and the artists that power them. We are all in an unprecedented position to influence not only our culture, but the combined cultures of the planet. And who better to do it? Politicians have been wearing this hat for millennia and have driven themselves as a group into a generally distrusted and despised condition of existence. It is only fitting that we, as artists, bypass and handle. Not as those who would govern the culture, but as those who illustrate the direction that a culture should properly take in its evolution from the existing scene to a more ideal scene, and provide effective encouragement and motivation for the achievement of that evolution. As artists, its our job and should be our united purpose.
I am happy to announce that my book “Messages in a Bottle: Communications to My Future Self” took one of the top awards given by the Colorado Independent Publishers Association in 2018. Both it, and my book “Reflections on a Crystal Wind” are available on Amazon.
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Copyright © 2015-2019 by Michael Graves, All Rights Reserved, except the right to forward and to share with friends – with credit — which is held to be a good idea and is thus encouraged.
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The image is copyrighted by its owner. I have no idea who this is, and no infringement is intended. I did a Google images search and was unable to locate any attribution information. If you know of any, I would appreciate finding out about it. Thanks! The quote in the image is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. 16th President of the United States.