A short essay I wrote a few years ago on the beauty of poetry and self expression.
|Poetry can awaken apart of the human spirit that everyday language suppresses and normalizes in the face of society. What is needed rather than a normative outlook on society is the raw emotion that inhibits each individual life, rendering it a life worth living. One cannot simply disappear in the background of society; one must be recognized. Judith Butler discusses the fact that “poems themselves offer a different kind of moral responsiveness, a kind of interpretation that may, under certain conditions, contest and explode the dominant schisms running through the national and military ideology” (58). There is a need for rediscovering of one’s self within the world by deconstructing the self so that their own body can be recognized within society. “The formatting of those words is linked with survival, with the capacity to survive, or survivability” (Butler 56). For example, a severely oppressed people, such as a prisoner of war will do anything possible to write down how they are feeling as there is a need for this survivability of emotion. Many holocaust poems were kept safe and preserved to remind us of the lived experience of those people who did indeed have a livable life. Their poetry is their representation of a certain reality. Butler reiterates this by stating that “the overwhelming power of mourning, loss, and isolation becomes a poetic tool of insurgency, even a challenge to the individual sovereignty” (58).Even when the body is not survivable, the words survive to establish a social connection to the world. The poems become “a drive towards exposure” (Butler 57).
Though language creates a certain reality, there is more truth in the emotion and suffering of the oppressed that we can see through these poems. Creating poetry to voice one’s emotions not only makes a statement about the world that is going on around you, but also expresses an interest in changing that world and creating something better and more livable. Sometimes we take for granted what grammar does, therefore everyday language can deny certain realities. It is not enough to be able to speak about emotion, but one has to truly feel what is being felt by the oppressed. Butler describes this by saying that “the body is exposed to socially and politically articulated forces as well as to claims of sociality- including language...that make possible the body’s persisting and flourishing” (3). There are so many different ways to express one’s self, and the body needs these forms of expression in order to live. By twisting grammar around and refusing to make language plain, a completely different category of emotion can be created and possibilities can be expanded. Poems then “communicate a sense of solidarity, of interconnected lives that carry on each others’ words, suffer each others’ tears, and form networks that pose an incendiary risk” (Butler 62). This creates a lived experience rather than a misrecognition of the body, and through poetry one can be truly recognized the way they choose to be. Brand describes in her poetry that “now she wishes she could hear/all that noise the poets make/about time and timelessness” (Brand 33), which emphasises her need to recover the world to a better state through her words.
If we look at Susan Musgrave’s poems entitled “Heroines”, we see the woman of her poems as a “recognizable subject.” The prostitute, the drug addict, and the alcoholic become bodies in which their actions are subject to how they are treated. On page 99 of Origami Doves, the question is asked “What do they think about you, the people who pass you in the street? What would you like them to see?” And the reply to this is “They see the druggie, the whore, the junkie. I’d like them to see me as their daughter, a sister, a lover, their mother” (99). She claims that she wants to “make the best” of her situation, and wishes the public to view her through this lens, rather than stereotyping her though use of words like “druggie”, “whore”, and “junkie”. Musgrave demonstrates the heroin addict as a person whose life becomes worthy because it is her life as a human being, not as a label. In this sense Musgrave’s poetry becomes necessary because it places us in a more personal and understanding view of the women she writes for. Similarly in her poem called “Origami Dove, she states that “there are 101 words for freedom, not one for the kind of pain the woman must have suffered after 101 lashes with a cane, cut, I suspect, specifically for one purpose” (15). By saying that there are 101 words for freedom but only one for the pain a woman suffers, Musgrave is emphasizing this need to be perceived as a recognized subject that is susceptible and vulnerable to pain and suffering. Her use of words has invoked emotion in the reader that can now be transformed into understanding of the individual life.
There are several ways in which poetry, similarly to other forms of expression such as photography, music, and art, can create recognition against the other and re-establish themselves in the world as a liveable and grievable life. These representations become another kind of voice that do not subjugate, but rather liberate. Poets such as Dionne Brand and Susan Musgrave who reject certain normative social structures are able to create a liveable life in her characters that would otherwise go unrecognized in society, and therefore create a better society in which to live in. Rearranging of language becomes necessary to express thought and look beyond, and both Brand and Musgrave do this in their poetry by creating a world in which the subject not only rejects normative violence within society, but strives for this better world. Her use of parataxis in her poetry forces images and ideas together, which does exactly what Butler describes by expanding possibilities and refusing to let language be plain. Also Brand’s use of repetition fits into a certain “rhythm of life” which gets a powerful and emotional voice across to the readers. She truly understands the precariousness of life, assumes a responsibility in that life, and attempts to recover life to a state of being recognized and alive.
The role of the poet then becomes one that creates a recognizable and livable life for its subject through use of language. Rather than using language to manipulate the other, its use becomes one of experience and emotion that is needed to be fully understood and recognized within society. There is a strong relationship to the body as poetry begins to denaturalize the frameworks of society and make each individual life grievable. Brand’s language creates a visibility to these bodies and we begin to understand the full story of grieving and suffering, and not simply one that has been placed upon us by the media or the dominant class.