Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poetry Week Day Three: Julia Alvarez

We're getting a little political with today's poem. It comes from the collection Cry Out: Poets Protest the War, which gathers the poems read by eleven contemporary poets in Manchester, Vermont in 2003 in response to the recent cancellation of a White House poetry symposium. Julia Alvarez contributed this poem, among others, to the reading and the collection. She prefaces the poem with this:

Many of you may know the poem by Auden in which the line occurs: "Poetry makes nothing happen," which he doesn't mean. so the title of this one is that Auden quote, "Poetry Makes Nothing Happen," but I add a question mark:

"Poetry Makes Nothing Happen"?
W. H. Auden

Listening to a poem on the radio,
Mike Holmquist stayed awake on his drive home
from Laramie on Interstate 80,
tapping his hand to the beat of some lines
by Longfellow; while overcome by grief
one lonesome night when the bathroom cabinet
still held her husband's meds, May Quinn reached out
for a book by Yeats instead and fell asleep
cradling "When You Are Old," not the poet's best,
but still... poetry made nothing happen,

which was good, given what May had in mind.
Writing a paper on a Bishop poem,
Jenny Klein missed her ride but arrived home
to the cancer news in a better frame of mind.
While troops dropped down into Afghanistan
in the living room, Naomi Stella clapped
to the nursery rhyme her father had turned on,
All the king's horses and all the king's men...
If only poetry had made nothing happen!
If only the president had listened to Auden!

Faith Chaney, Lulú Pérez, Sunghee Chen--
there's a list as long as an epic poem
of folks who'll swear a poem has never done
a thing for them...except... perhaps adjust
the sunset view one cloudy afternoon,
which made them see themselves or see the world
in a different light - degrees of change so small
only a poem registers them at all.
That's why they can be trusted, why poems might
still save us from what happens in the world.

for Jay Parini

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