SAN FRANCISCO, United States, Nov 17 (IPS) – Two centuries ago, Percy Shelley wrote that “poets are the unsung legislators of the world.” Yet elite power regularly vetoes their best measures. Yet poetry’s ability to inspire and nourish is valuable, even when governments engage in prolonged killings.
In Gaza, more than 11,000 civilians have been killed since the beginning of October. Children die in a average rate of 10 deaths per hour. The ongoing massacre carried out by Israeli forces – backed by massive military aid from the United States – follows the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7 in Israel, where the latest estimate of the death toll is 1,200 including at least 846 civilians in addition to some 200 hostages. But the numbers don’t take us very far on a human level. And the media has limited abilities to connect to real emotions. This is where poetry can go far beyond the failures of journalism. A few words from a poet could break the frozen blocks that support illegitimate power. And we might gain strength from the clarity that a few lines can bring. Stanley Kunitz wrote:
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
We have to go
through the darkness and deeper darkness
and don’t look back.
You attach all the triggers
For others to shoot
Then you sit back and watch
When the number of deaths increases
You hide in your mansion
While the blood of the young
Flows from their body
And is buried in the mud
June Jordan wrote:
I was born a black woman
I became Palestinian
against the incessant laughter of evil
there are fewer and fewer lounges
and where are my loved ones?
In the United States, far from the carnage, viewers, listeners, and readers may easily prefer not to really see that “their” government is helping Israel continue to kill thousands and thousands of Palestinian children and other civilians. “I call it cruel and perhaps the root of all cruelty / knowing what is happening but not recognizing the fact,” said one poem by William Stafford says.
From Pink Floyd:Don’t accept what’s happening
It’s just a case of other people’s suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining us
. . . .
Just a world we all have to share
It’s not enough to stand and watch
Is it only a dream that there will be
No need to turn away anymore?
Franz Kafka wrote: “You can restrain yourself from the suffering of the world, it is something you are free to do and it corresponds to your nature, but perhaps this restraint is the only suffering you could avoid.”
Norman Solomon is national director of RootsAction.org and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of numerous books, including War Made Easy. His latest book, War made invisible: how America hides the human toll of its military machinewas published in summer 2023 by The New Press.
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