Introduction to Misfit 27
This Spring we traveled to Pennsylvania to visit our youngest son and family for an extended weekend. As there was no consistent wifi connection, it was a good time to take a respite from The Book of Revelation (The Mueller Report) and the fulminations of King Humpty Trumpty trying to forestall the Great Fall. While we were able to escape the strum and drang of daily politics, my current reading brought me to political places that were as immediate as any in the daily news.
First I read , In Extremis the biography of war correspondent, Marie Colvin, who defied the odds, in an increasingly life and death, far longer than anyone might be expected to. When there was a war to be covered, she was always beyond the front lines, where the action was hottest.
Her commitment to getting the story right was always couched in human terms. The story is about the people affected, not about the politics. Colvin often stated: her work was about people who are caught in a maelstrom of large events, through no fault of their own, more form proximity than design. While she realized that one voice was not enough to change policy, the weight of what she said and observed did have a direct effect on events. Most notably, she was able to indirectly change policy by exposing the sniper attacks on women in Beirut. The snipers would play a cruel, heinous game of life and death, shooting women who emerged at dawn to run the highway of death to go to markets for their families. Her story was so embarrassing to the military, that these snipers were quietly withdrawn, and women no longer had to wonder where the fatal bullet was coming from, when it might come and who would be the target.
She was also the first to uncover mass burials of hundreds of victims of the cruel regime of Saddam Hussein. They were not so much interred in secret, remote, desert area, as hidden there. Marie was there: for the grieving families. For the world to see.
If there was a major political upheaval, civil war, police action from 1986 until she was targeted, and killed in Syria in 2012, she was more than likely there, filing copy while even the most intrepid reporters had left town. Wisely no doubt. Most of them are still alive and Marie isn’t.
Even after losing an eye in an explosion is Sri Lanka, she continued to work for Murdoch and company as an underpaid, driven, searcher for truth, well into her fifties, long past the time when she should have been relegated to a behind the lines job. Not that she would have it. Some of her best copy came in the days just before she died in Homs. No doubt, if she were living now, she would be in Mexico, exposing the humanitarian crisis on the Southern Border for what it is: a cruel, tyrannical violation of international law and human decency.
Even more poignant was Carolyn Forche’s much anticipated “memoir”, What You Have Heard Is True ( the title is a line from her most famous poem “The Colonel”). Her non-fiction account details her time in El Salvador, the background of what would become the award winning poetry book, The Country Between Us. The man who would become her mentor, Leonel Gomez Vides, drove from El Salvador with his two young daughters, to Southern California to meet Forche, based on recommendations of a niece of poet Claribel Alegria, and of his reading of Forche’s first book, Gathering the Tribes. He felt that what was happening in El Salvador must be witnessed by a poet. Despite her continual claim that she was not a reporter, did not know the first thing about how to go about the task of seeing what needed to be seen, and making it into something identifiable, Vides insisted that he needed a poet. Her.
And he was right. The poems she would write in her book about El Salvador are probably the most noteworthy poems of their kind in the last 50 years. Having seen her read from The Country Between Us, roughly 25 years apart, they resonant now, with clear eyed poignancy, as they did then.
Her memoir dispassionately, and vividly, reports the atrocities that were everyday life in- country. Forche’s life was in jeopardy all of the time she was there. Vides instructed her to be quiet and watch; she would learn that just being there. Being an American “observer” was enough, even if she didn’t actually do anything. What he meant was: enough to make them wonder, “Who was she, really? What was her agenda? Who was she working for? “ Ultimately, it was for poetry. For humanity. And to write this book.
Human rights are always a contemporary issue, it is just the way they are being violated an where and how, that is contemporary.
The crisis continues. Which is why we write: to seek solace, to find truth, and to express the inner workings of the heart and, dare I say it? the soul. As always, a vast array of completely different poets, known and previously unknown to me, have sent their work to me to choose from. As always, this issue is dedicated to them, to the poets that make us what we are.
You can’t escape politics.