Further thoughts on the cultural labor of poetry and art. Not merely "is it good?," but "what has it accomplished?"...reviews of recent poetry collections; selected poems and art dealing with war/peace/social change; reviews of poetry readings; links to political commentary (particularly on conflicts in the Middle East); youtubed performances of music, demos, and other audio-video nuggets dealing with peaceful change, dissent and resistance.
you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish.
reference in Deuteronomy, there are at least 42 instances in the Bible in which
we are admonished to “harden not our hearts.” In a world so full of din and
spin, voices thick with propaganda and hatred, it is easy to close our ears to
everything but our own immediate concern. Sometimes, to my great shame, I've shut out the people I love the most. What of the “many long dumb voices,”
of which Whitman spoke: “through me many long dumb voices,” the voices that have
been mute or made mute in our lives and in our world? What if we’re not listening to the very
voice of God?
I found this illumination
(below) in an exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and was struck by its astonishing
beauty and its representation of a cruel and hideous act, the beheading of St.
Bartholomew. I wondered again at the paradox of the limitlessness of human depradation
and also the ability of human beings to depict even such acts with such grace.
What if flesh is the text of God?
of the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew
from the dried
hide of calves
carved sewn in quires
they bend & tend to him / as if
healers & not rending
skin from limb /
/ he balances
naked on ankle /
arm aloft as if
scything / O wholly
gold-haloed & yet-membered head
soothe the eye
in which I am
thrown / hand
without shield /
scissored out hymn
/ & if
flayed & displayed
in human palms
/ & human skin
scrolled open /
the body still dances
& if the
flesh is the text
of God / bid a
voice to rise /
“Illumination of the Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew” by Hilary Plum
In an age of
text casually digitally illuminated, I find online a reproduction of a leaf from a ca. 1340 Italian hymnal, which
above its fragment of hymn portrays in tempera, gold, and ink the martyrdom of
Saint Bartholomew. I am following the poem. The pose of the saint corresponds;
in one panel, skin of one leg flayed to the thigh; in the next, skin a cloak
tied round the neck of the headless saint. Bartholomew is often portrayed
offering forth his skin, specter of his own face gathered in his hands.
Bid a voice to rise: the page is waiting to be sung. Yet
its fate has long been silence. A hymnal like this has become a document of
song, not a means to it; to preserve and be preserved and not to be used.
Bid a voice to rise: of his encounter with the testimonies
of those imprisoned in Abu Ghraib, Metres writes I found the transcripts… were too painful for me to read straight
through; the only way I could bear to read them was to work with them. So every
morning, I sat down with a photocopied page and a yellow highlighter. To
The voice that
rises, ruptures: in the “abu ghraib arias” that follow this poem, space and
silence rupture the text. Black bars obscure where text might have been. To
illuminate; to hear the history of silence. These poems document a silence that
is a silencing; they mourn by hearing what they cannot hear. The poet calls
forth his voice and then lets silence occupy it.
When I sit
before the reproduction of this page I am following the poet, occupying a space
before the screen he must once have occupied. Years have passed since he was
here, years that have silenced further the fact of these crimes and of these
living voices, the hooded faces we have yet to see. I sit before the poem and
all that has come after. I follow the poem; the work remains. The poem means to
Hilary Plum is the
author of the novel They Dragged Them Through the Streets (FC2,
2013) and the essay Watchfires (Rescue Press, forthcoming