I’ve been thinking a lot about what Erica said at the end of class, last Thursday. I think it’s absolutely, undeniably true that we are conditioned to poke holes and critique, rather than appreciate and celebrate things. This applies to academic work and to non-academic writings, even actions. In some ways, the ability to critique and interrogate is incredibly important. For example, I have always been taught, within the context of historiography, to interrogate silences and internalized biases. History students are taught to critique historical writing, to push back on mainstream historical narratives and to create a more historically inclusive and accurate counter-narrative. Even socially, I think critiques and call-outs are crucial in the production of a less cis-patriarchal, white supremacist, queer-antagonistic, ableist society. And I am a staunch advocate of the “defend your friends” method of friendship (honestly, would life not be easier if everyone had to defend their friends, and if they could not, maybe those shouldn’t be your friends… I swear, the amount of people I know and like who do not feel the need to defend their friends, and are thus friends with human-trash, but I digress…).
But what I have learned over the course of this semester, is that this might not be the approach to poetry. Because what is everyone’s worst fear about writing and putting poetry out into the ether? For me, it is the fear of being poorly received, having people hate my poetry, being called trite, boring, unintelligent, the list goes on. And I think in the past, when I have read poetry that does not resonate with me, it has been supremely easy to just throw the book down, curse the author, and move on. But I rarely have ever stopped, in the context of poetry, to question myself and my reactions. I am quick to criticize, but slow to interrogate myself and my own reactions, thoughts, and feelings. So the idea of showing up for the poetry we read is really exciting and morale-boosting and health-giving, to me.
Thinking about showing up for the poetry we read, being committed, participatory and kind readers, reminds me of the conversation we had during our first class after the elections. We discussed the role of art, poetry specifically, in a Trump presidency. We talked about how we, as poets and readers of poetry, can push back on the normalization of hate speech through art and poetry. And I think engaging in the arts, and showing up for that art (whether it be poetry, prose, painting, or any other medium, and specifically the work of artists of color, queer artists, disabled artists) is a vital step in questioning the status quo and dismantling white supremacy. Because during this presidency, as has always been the truth, artists will be reacting, critically thinking, interrogating, speaking, and being activists. And it is our duty, as on-lookers and fellow artists, to show up for the work they are doing, and stand in solidarity with their work & have the necessary conversations that accompany that work. That’s what this class has taught me. If you are to critique, question yourself too. And if you find that a criticism is not necessary, show up. Be present and kind, because a lot of folks need that, just as they always have.