Posts Tagged ‘war’

Where Have All the Artists Gone?

May 14, 2010

I read an essay the other day that posed the question “Why aren’t more poets politically involved?” So I said, “Yeah, why aren’t they?”

This reminded me of a time back in 2004 when I was still a student at the University of Minnesota and I went to a reading by Robert Bly, who shortly thereafter was named Poet Laureate of Minnesota. Bly has a long history of political engagement, most notably as a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam (to note it lightly). Between poems, he was quick to wonder out loud to the audience the same question as the essay I mentioned.

Where are the poets writing grand verse in opposition to the war? During the 1960s, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting at least one! (Paraphrased, not actually what he said.)

And you know, he was right. First of all, he was there during the ‘60s, so he certainly knew well enough what was going on. But today, there’s an awful lot of silence. There has been for most of the years the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been going on.

And of course, it’s not just poets. It’s artists of all mediums and genres. And whereas there has certainly been dissent against the war, not nearly to the scale that was seen against Vietnam.

I see this as a problem, and not just because I’m not for the wars. Have we become so complacent with the world we’ve developed around ourselves that we can’t see beyond our noses to what’s happening in our name both at home and abroad? I see this as more than just dissent. I see it as conscious involvement in something greater than one’s self. And that goes for whether you’re for or against the wars; whether or not you feel they’re just.

So my point is basically this: There seems to be fewer people nowadays who stand up and make their case for a cause they feel is worthy by using art.

I see two reasons for this.

One: Poetry and other forms of art have slowly taken a back seat to other forms of media that are far more accessible in the modern age of telecommunications.

And two: It only ‘seems’ that there’s silence.

I know for a fact there is no shortage of artists in this country who take notice of various political action by our government and compose pieces appropriate to their outrage. But unless you’re part of one of these inner art circles, you’re not very likely to hear about it (see reason ‘one’ above). But that doesn’t mean that Bly or the author of the essay I read yesterday are completely wrong with their assertions that there’s a lack of political involvement amongst artists today. For better or for worse, the art culture evolves to represent the modern culture. As it turns out, the ‘60s were a time of heavy popular political involvement, therefore it was represented in the art scene. Today, it’s less so.

But there has been a resurgence.

Over the last few national elections, there have been record numbers of people, especially youth, who are making it to the polls to cast their vote. The same modern means of telecommunication that has been squashing art forms in the national popularity contest has created a new informed population, and many don’t like what they’ve seen. If the numbers at the voting booths are any indication of political involvement, then there are plenty of people who want to stand up and make a case for their cause.

So what’s the problem? Did I just refute the original argument?

Not really. The point still stands that there’s not much political poetry out there that gets any attention out of specific circles. As a poet and writer, I’m a bit saddened by this. I have read a number of fantastic contemporary poems having to do with modern political issues (the wars, etc…), but people don’t take them as accessible, so they get drowned out in the flood of information we all get daily.

Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe not. Either way, it’s the evolution of things. Maybe I’ll just go watch a movie instead.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

February 22, 2010

Isn’t it an exciting time to be alive in this country? By this I mean, whether you like it or not, things are changing…

We’ve got national healthcare in our collective consciousness, with heated debates on the manner of its reform, or if it even needs it.

We’ve got GLBT rights activists up front protesting for marriage equality, and with that some very confusing mixed-messages all the way from the President himself on when said rights will be enacted.

We elected the first African-American President.

We’re fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we were originally led to believe that they were one in the same.

There’s climate change, and even though the debate as to whether or not its real has pretty much been wrapped up, a unified solution to this world-wide problem has everyone torn on just what type of sacrifices need to be made.

And to top it all off, we’re experiencing an economic recession that was a baby’s breath away from being a depression, and still could go that way if we’re not careful.


All my life, I’ve heard about the type of revolutions that were happening in the ‘60s, how nothing was the same after that. There are endless documentaries on everything cultural that took place; Women’s Lib, Woodstock, the Civil Rights Act, the moon landing. But cultural progression isn’t something that lays stagnant for a generation or two only to launch forward on a given decade; it truly is simply ongoing. But every now and then, we reach a place in history where we find ourselves springing forward, for better or for worse, and afterward we look back in amazement of the times.

I believe we’re living one of those moments right now. And I bet I’m not alone. The real question is then: What comes next? Are things starting to simmer down, or are they just heating up?

I think about the people who experienced the ‘60s sometimes, those who remember where they were when JFK was shot, what they were doing when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution took place which made our war with Vietnam official. And I wonder what their mindset was on these events? What was their position on theses momentous issues? What their involvement was in shaping that time?

So with that in mind, when we find ourselves, many years from now, looking back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century in the form of a PBS documentary, how exactly will we feel about our contributions when we say to ourselves, “Hey, I was there.”? I personally look forward to regaling grandchildren with my exploits someday. And I look forward to them being proud of me for my role in the times.

It would be presumptuous of me to assume that all my ideas and ideals will be shone upon positively by all in the annals of future history. But being opposed to wars that are documented to have been started for the wrong reasons, and being for the rights of an oppressed segment of the population, I feel fairly confident that I’ll have no need to be embarrassed. If looking back at the ’60s can teach us anything, I believe those are two lessons to not take for granted. So the question is: What do you think your future will hold about the current times?