I read an excellent interview by Dan Olivas with Ruben Quesada over at La Bloga last week. When asked how editing a journal has informed his writing, Quesada responds:
“Becoming an editor has informed my understanding of writing with an audience in mind and this isn’t always a good thing for a creative writer. My approach to writing hasn’t changed as much as my approach to publishing. I write about concerns that can’t be addressed by stepping away from my computer. I would rather do something about issues surrounding race, sexism, and homophobia; issues important to my way of life and those I care about. If I want to make a difference as a human being I’ll go into my local community and make a difference by speaking about change, by creating a literary reading series that features underrepresented voices.
Like I said earlier, so many people are writing and publishing that makes it necessary to publish work that says something meaningful about the human experience. For instance, using race, misogyny, sexism, pedophilia, or homophobia just for the sake of affect or entertainment isn’t interesting to me; it can be irresponsible. Don’t get me wrong I know I don’t have to read that work or I can choose to ignore it. If I wanted to encounter those issues for the sake of entertainment I would watch SVU or tune into the local news. But it can also be done artfully. Writers like Tim Parrish, Roger Reeves, Ryan Van Meter, and Steve Davenport are a few writers who are doing this well.”
I’ve been thinking about the political in poetry a lot lately. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading H.D. and considering her work alongside Estella Lauter’s book Women as Mythmakers as well as Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. In her chapter “Poetry as a Vessel of Remembrance,” Hirshfield writes about the act of writing as an act of remembering: “What is considered worth remembering becomes what is considered important; even the limited democracy of ancient Athens could not have been conceived in a culture concerned only with accounts of leaders and gods. The personal is political.”
This took me back to a Naomi Shihab Nye interview I’d read sometime last year. Rachel Barenblat asks “Do you think of yourself/your poetry as political?” to which Nye responds “Yes, I do think of myself as political, alas, because politics is about people, and I am interested in the personal ramifications of everything, for everybody. How can we get away from it?”
Politics is about people. Poetry is about people. Like Quesada, I, too, want to create work “that says something meaningful about the human experience.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts.