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Poetry as Praxis in a Hurting World by Charl Landsberg

Charl Landsberg | January 3rd, 2018 | essays | No Comments

Okay, first off we should get the horrible words out of the way. As with prose, so too with poetry, verbosity tends to weigh down language, and often not to anyone’s credit. So what do I mean by praxis? Praxis is more than merely doing something, praxis is the way we do something, how we go about improving the way we do something. So if you are a poet, my question is: what is your praxis? How do you go about being a poet? How do I go about being a poet? And this is a harder question than you might imagine, especially given the world we live in.

The job of the poet is intimately tied into this problem. Poets and their poetry are a good barometer, a good measuring tool, for how society is doing. This is true of all the arts. We’re more than just a voice of society, we’re a reflection of it. And in no place do we see that more clearly than among poets from oppressed or marginalised backgrounds. People of colour. Women. Queer people. Disabled people. People living with chronic, physical, or mental illness. The poor. The refugee. Poetry from people such as these always carries the weight of lives lived at the edge of society, which (as is true of such poetry) always reflects society as it truly is, rarely in a good light.

Our world is sick: people are hurting, the environment is dangerously injured, our world is yet again thrown into dangerous conservatism that has renewed campaigns of bigotry that has accelerated the number of murders and systematised deaths of the marginalised. Our poetry reflects this.

As a shameful segue that is so characteristic of my writing, I would like to tell you, dear reader, that I spend entirely too much time on YouTube watching poetry videos. The resurgence of the popularity of beat poetry, dramatic monologues, bombastic free verse, and loud voices on bright stages, and cafes, and lecture halls is something truly magnificent.

Poetry has become accessible again. Not only as something to consume, but as something to produce. Poetry has become a new language that younger kids are learning to speak. I’ve been writing poetry for years. My blog goes back to 2009 and I was writing poetry long before that. And through the years so many of my friends said that they wrote poetry, but they were afraid to share their work. To say, “I wrote a poem,” was tantamount to a child telling an adult, “I drew a crayon drawing.” But now? Now I have friends who share their poetry with me, tell me of their poetry that has been posted, published, and printed. Perhaps it is because the medium of poetry has changed, perhaps poetry (much like King Arthur) returns when it is needed most, when it’s people are in dire need of it.

Poetry has taken on these beautiful characteristics that so clearly frames our current understanding of the world. The predominant emotion is always anger: that pure emotion that lights up rooms and calls attention to injustice. But there are other emotions and sentiments popping up too: the beauty of vulnerability; the validation of sadness; the rising voice of the victim to become the call of the survivor; something like hope, although I’m not sure what to call it; and the return of love poems as greasy, saccharine, ham-fisted, soppy as they may be. What better kind of poetry is there?

And this poetry is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Poetry as activism has taught people new ways of expressing problems in concise and specific ways. Poetry has armed our mouths with new concepts that allow us to approach problems in new and unexpected ways. Poetry as healing has taught us how to understand ourselves and each other. I write to survive, and I suspect this is true of so many people. Poetry as praxis is how we’ve learnt to be human, how we’ve learnt to survive a hostile world. Praxis, as in how we do things in poetry, is how we express that struggle. How do we improve the world around us? How do we imagine the world as it should be? How do we imagine our own journey? How do we go about being poets? What is poetry’s job? What do you expect to get from other people’s poetry? What do you expect to give people in your own poetry?

I don’t have an answer for you or a conclusion. I’ve always been about the journey and never the destination, which is largely why I suck at wrapping these things up. But I ask you to ask these things for yourself, as I do. And if you are a poet, write. Keep writing. Never stop. And please share your work. I doubt you’ll ever know the value of your work. You might change the world entirely, or you might save one life – I see no difference between those two things.

I hope you have a wondrous 2018 ahead. We have a lot of work to do and I look forward to being there with you all.

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