By Sara M. Robinson
I’ve been asked by many friends and associates why they haven’t seen any activist poetry from me. How do I write about current events? Or will I write about current events? Using poetry, I remarked that this is a very good and timely question. I struggled to provide an adequate answer, however. My hesitation is based on the major stumbling block for me: Where in the world would I start?
To write about world events and our own home country events is a challenge. We are compelled (theoretically, I think) as poets to be the witnesses of our surroundings then write about events in creative ways that provide thought provocation for our readers.
In a future Southern Writers Magazine column, titled “The Poetry of Witness,” I credit the amazing Carolyn Forché with coining that term. She describes in her writings what she sees as inequities of life around her. Another greatly admired poet, is Nikki Giovanni. Her memorable convocation after the Virginia Tech massacre of 2017 was and remains a powerful poetic statement and reminder about our history.
So, how does all this come back to me? For one thing, as a poet, I constantly remind myself to be observant of all I can see. I take notes in my faithful companion journal. I talk to people and engage them to talk. One of my greatest pleasures is meeting weekly with senior citizen residents at a local retirement community. I use poetry from lots of sources to engage my attendees in conversation about their feelings and impressions. This is activism, using poetry as a “tool” to engage what I see as elderly folks wanting to stay relevant. Many of our weekly meetings inspire me to write poetry about the process of aging and the longevity of love. Often, I write poems for some of the attendees, to mark a birthday or some special event. Sometimes I’ve written poems as eulogy when the group has lost a member. In this way I suppose I have witnessed.
Now, back to the original question. While I may not be currently writing about politics or world events, I believe I write about life. I am a witness to life around me, and I use my poetry to advocate the beauty of living and the respect of aging; and lastly the hope I have gained wisdom of language to express all this in remarkable ways. A key component of my writing is to the creative use of language. After all, it is the basis for all that is human. Without language, we could only witness, we could not share.
Sara M. Robinson, award-winning poet, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. In addition to publication in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), and Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017); journals: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, and Poetica, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013), and Stones for Words (2014). Her latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, released in February 2016, was a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award.