Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Dangerous business ...

... The new martyrs are the poets | David F. Cooper.


  1. If there is one poet imprisoned in Damascus, then considering all the dead there I'd have to say, No, the new martyrs are the old martyrs. A few poets may be along for the ride.

  2. The poet expresses inspired principal, as religious people have, along the lines of the saints who have suffered and died for their beliefs. They are therefore sought out for who they are. Amina Abdallah is an especially good example of this. She set up a web site called A Gay Girl in Damascus, outing her beliefs for the worlds to see over a period of time.

    I do not discount the martyrs who have taken to the streets, and who have no blogs, but are the strength of the underground. No martyr is along for the ride. My comparison is to the religious martyrs.

    But the most consistently visible martyrs now are not those of religion, although they exist, such as the Tibetan monks who demonstrated before the Beijing Olympics. The most consistently visible are the poets. If we move over to Burma and China, we see two poets, two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Aung San Suu Kyi and and Liu Xiabobo, imprisoned for long periods. They are sought out by those who feel threatened by them. They are poets.

    I am pointing to the martyrs who take or end up in principled leadership roles, and differentiate them from journalists, who also are martyred for the sake of being able to report events that they witness. I differentiate in the sense that the poets seem to be holding the martyr banner that the saints used to. It is because of their beliefs that they are sought out by the opposition for silencing. Yet if someone were to say that journalists are the new martyrs I would understand where that person is coming from, and take their points as valuable.

    Especially when government or militarily powerful political movements become based in fundamental religions, the inspiration comes from outside those religions--and it does not have to be some high holy inspiration, human dignity will do. Poets are those who recognize, write and speak about how it is to be human, what it means to be inspired.

    This is how these young women in the news this week got to their martyr positions. They spoke from their poetic inspiration, and in doing so threatened regimes. This is happening all over the world, and far too often.

  3. Yes, "along for the ride was too strong." However:

    First, the general point holds. Mandelstam went to the camps and died for his "Stalin epigram". Yet, how many of the millions who suffered there suffered for poetry? Would it make sense to say "The martyrs of the 1930s were poets?"

    Second, the intensity of conviction does not guarantee poetic achievement. Finally, we remember poets for their works more than their lives.

    Third, "consistently visible martyrs now are not those of religion". For some range of vision, I suppose. The Bahais seem to consistently get the short end of the stick in a number of countries in the Middle East. Christians have had a hard time lately in Egypt and Iraq. I have not sought these stories out, particularly; they show up in the NY Times.

    Finally, why instance Aung San Suu Kyi? She is the leader of a political movement, and the regime would persecute her if she wrote prose only. The British shot Pearse and McDonagh in 1916, not for their writings but for armed insurrection.

  4. I instance Aung San Suu Kyi, because she is a poet, doing what poets do. She happens to be a poet who ran for and won political office in Burma, and was kept from taking her place by the junta. Poets can do these things, your cases in point, Pearse and McDonagh. I specifically brought out the two Nobel Peace Prize winners. Another approach would have been to do an exhaustive study of all the poets who have been killed or jailed in the past 8 years I have been doing Poetry & Poets in Rags. Far too often, I have had to bring word of despicable treatment of poets.

    I do not discount any martyr who has religious background. The point exudes from their examples, that the poets are being sought out for silencing because of who they are, what they believe, the fact that it enters into their expression.

    I have no problem going back to the 1930s. It would be interesting to collect the data, which should bear out what I said in the final paragraph, that the best governments will have far fewer poets imprisoned. The ideal govenment is not threatened by the poetic influence or impetus. The best governments grow from such expression. My friend Terreson said that the poets are the canaries in the mine shaft.

  5. Just as I wrote the above response, I person who has no idea that we have been having this discussion, posted over at Poetry & Poets in Rags under the April 19th Poetic Ticker Clicking.

    Here is the link posted: Free Ericson Acosta.

    Another link is to Ericson Acosta's Jailhouse Blog (not in English).