Why I can't write a poem for Haiti
Kei Miller - 27 January 2010
I've watched the clips of the Hope for Haiti concert, and I realize that in times like these, artists give what they can give best - their art. So I've seen paintings on sale, and I've heard singles on the radio, and my own inbox is already full, requests from one organization or another asking for a story, or a poem for Haiti. Bless them. I trust they will get their poems, but not from me. I can't write an earthquake poem, just as I couldn't write a tsunami poem, or a 9-11 poem, or any poem that tries to stand side by side with a grieving world, reaching over to dab its eyes. Perhaps I think such poems are unnecessary.
I don't mean to be a curmudgeon, though it's true: five days after the earthquake and I was already tired of all the facebook status messages that simply had to mention the quake in one way or another. I became wary, as I often do, of the world having gone into its saviour mode - how we had begung begging to be congratulated and validated because, just for this moment, we had remembered our humanity. I know I shouldn't be so critical. I should just accept that this is how things are, and I should learn to stomach the excessive sanctimonies because there really is a need, and we really should give what we can. But even so, I cannot give a poem.
Why? Because a good poem always leads us towards ourselves - and I don't mean in a narcisstic way. I think this is a good thing. And it leads us towards ourselves via a strange route. It will take us through a side-door, or a back door. Sometimes it goes through a window that had been previously locked. The good poem events a whole new language so that we can feel things we didn't know how to feel before. The good poem is emotional. It feels. But in moments like these, we are feeling so much already. The world is like a circle of exposed nerves. So I wonder, what would be the point of poems for Haiti? They would not want to lead us anywhere new. They would only want to stand with us, and they would want to feel exactly what we are feeling right now. They would want to cry our exact tears. In short, I think we would feel what we are feeling, poem or no poem.
Poetry is about new language, but sometimes I think it is ok to say things in ways that are more familiar to us. In moments like these, we can simply say, our hearts are broken, because they are.