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The power of poetry

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2021 - 12:00am

The inauguration of Biden as president and Harris as the first female vice president of the United States was truly a spectacular show. The entertainment part would be nearly impossible to duplicate. Imagine in one show you have stars like Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, John Legend, Lin-Manuel Miranda and many other stars. After four years of chaos under Trump, this was what many people around the world were desperately waiting for.

But it was a 22-year-old poet, an African American descended from slaves and raised by a single mother, who was the star of the entire show. Any single trait would have made her stand out – youth, ethnic background, brilliance. But to me the most surprising feature about her was that she is a poet.

Like most people I know, poetry has had very little influence on my life so far. I consider myself a voracious reader of fiction, mostly fantasy and historical, to non-fiction mostly biographies, historical, business, economics and geopolitical.

It was in the middle of the night or early morning, Manila time, when I listened to Amanda Gorman reciting her poem. I was not immediately impressed. But later when I read her poem and I hear her poetry being analyzed, I realized not just the power of her poem but also the power of poetry. It may have been written by an American for America; but the words of her poem hold meaning for people around the world. Consider these lines from her inauguration poem The Hill We Climb:

But while democracy can be periodically delayed

It can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith we trust,

For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared it at its inception,

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,

But within it, the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So while once we asked, ‘How can we prevail over catastrophe?’ Now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:

A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free,

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we

Know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain:

If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright.

When you read these lines of her poem, one can imagine it being recited by students in the streets of Hong Kong, Bangkok and Diliman; by the population of Belarus; by the Muslims in the concentration camps in China; and in so many other places in the world.

The power of the written world – of stories – has shaped people, history and civilization. There is a story that in 1968, three astronauts – Borman, Lovell, Anders – were sent to navigate around the moon to see what it was like, identify a landing site for future missions and bring back photographs and film materials. The farther they went, the better they could see what no one had ever seen before – the earth. Borman was the first human to see the earth as a single globe. As the earth was getting smaller and smaller, the astronauts had trouble capturing everything on camera. The NASA ground control realized that they could not capture everything on a camera. So they resorted to a simpler technology – the spoken word. They sent the following instructions to the astronauts: “We would like you, if possible, to go into as much as possible of a detailed description as you poets can.”

Becoming poets was not part of the astronauts’ training. Somehow they found the words and they described the “lunar sunsets and sunrises…these in particular bring out the stark nature of the terrain, and the dark shadows really bring out the relief that is here and hard to see at this very bright surface that we are going over right now.”

Lovell, who trained at the US Naval Academy, added: “The vast loneliness up here of the moon is awe-inspiring…It makes you realize just what you have there on earth. The earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.”

Amanda Gorman has made poetry now not just popular but also “cool,” especially with the younger generation. How does one read and write a poem? One of the Philippines’ foremost poets is Marjorie Evasco, a multi awarded poet and former Literature professor at De La Salle University. She said in an interview: “In writing and reading poems, silence is the syntax of listening. For silence is the behavior of attention …poetry attends to the listening mind and this requires deep meditation.”

She concludes, “When the poem is read, sometimes when one is quiet enough, it awakens the world that once was, and sometimes rises from the ruins like a phoenix in the imagination, vibrant and complete.”

Amanda Gorman’s poem had a powerful clarion call:

“So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.

With every breath from my bronze pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.”

*      *      *

An invitation to young writers:

Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom will be held on Jan 30, 2-3 p.m. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

JOE BIDEN US
Philstar
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