Poetry in Politics

by Elizabeth McCallister

When I read Marcie’s e-mail that it was my turn to write for the blog, I wasn’t sure what I would write about. I’ve spent the last month or so filling my time with spreadsheets of the financial kind. While I like to think poetry might exist between the lines of numbers, it isn’t a very good thing to suggest at year end when you’re the bookkeeper. It might lead people to wonder what is missing. Besides I can’t quite find the poetry in math.

However, the other night I was at a local coffee shop discussing the possibility of doing poetry readings at a local art gallery. One of my points was that this could be a way of reaching the people who think that poetry matters. Yet, I believe that poetry and literature should reach the masses – you know those people whose only contact with poetry came in school and haven’t thought about it much since then. There are so many exciting things happening in the world of poetry since the canon that most of us read in high school. I like to remind myself of how important poetry and literature can be to people when I remember that the old English poets and their sagas were the way that people way back when got their news. Imagine sitting round a campfire in a village listening to a musical version of the Greek debt crisis. That might make it more palatable or easy to hear.

Some of the news this week hasn’t been good. There was an article in the paper about a bookseller wanting to charge writers to appear in their stores to launch their new works. I’m familiar with the bookstore. It had been a great place to get local writers’ works and participate in the literary scene.

That might make it seem as if even the literary news is bad along with the rest of it. However, one exciting thing has happened. A poet was elected as the new President of Ireland. Michael D. Higgins is a poet and peace activist who received over a million votes to win the election. I wasn’t familiar with his work so I Googled him. Here is a link to one of his poems, “When Will My Time Come”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/28/michael-d-higgins-poem. I found it quite good, and it’s not about winning the election.

It does bring me back, in rather roundabout way, to my original point. I heard Robert Kroetsch say in a talk that writers are sometimes seen as mad because we are the ones who dare to speak the truth to power. When some people are under the impression that writers are part of the literary elite, it is up to us to remind them what does matter in life. Most of us in the CWC lead ordinary lives (except for our writing) just like our neighbours. Yet we see the world and its patterns in a different way. In times of upheaval, we should get ourselves out there to remind people of what matters and how art is a comfort, not a luxury.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Elizabeth McCallister grew up in Scarborough now resides in Brantford. She is currently a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, enjoys poetry readings and has been a winner in Cambridge Libraries’ Poem A Day contest.

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