Putting Down Roots

some thoughts on art
February 26, 2011, 11:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve spent a whole lot of time in my life trying to be ok with calling myself a “writer.” It always feels pretentious to me, somehow, or frivolous: when there’s so much suffering and pain in the world, aren’t I wasting my time writing poems? Shouldn’t I be doing something like feeding people, or building houses, or doing anything and everything I can to make sure that folks’ basic needs are met? The answer, of course, is that I should be doing all of those things, and that I should be writing, too.

Whenever I begin to think that writing is useless and self-serving, I’m reminded of the power of storytelling, and the importance of people using their words to retell the important things in such a way that they resonate with people.

Tonight, I ended up at the concert of a band called emma’s revolution. It was hosted in part by my Quaker friends, and someone generously bought me a ticket (I wouldn’t have gone otherwise). The band is two women, and they sing in beautiful two-part harmony lots of songs about love and resistance and the mess in the world around us.

What really got me, though, was a song that they had written together right after 9/11. In the days following the attacks, the families of people who were in the twin towers would register the names of the missing with the police. Along with the thousands of US citizens who were killed were also an unknown number of undocumented immigrants who did things like work in the restaurants and man the elevators and sweep the floors. The families of these men and women, when they went to try and register their names, face incredible hostility from federal police officers (the New York state and city police, though, were decent and compassionate), who would harass them and take their papers. On top of all of the terror of having your wife or brother or son killed in a terrorist act, there was the fear that looking for them in any official way could jeopardize your whole family’s safety.

Let me tell you, by the end of the first verse, I was crying.

That is why art is important. When songs or poems or photographs or giant installations of crochet can help people see the world in a different way and understand better what’s going on and why it matters, then it becomes a necessity instead of a luxury.


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