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  • Writer's pictureMichael Simms

Praise the Poet

A writer without a reader is an empty thing, a thumb without a finger to oppose it, a traveler without a companion. I was appalled by the undergraduate who told me she didn’t like anyone’s writing but her own. How strange it would be to hear only one’s own thoughts and think they are the world. Thank you, readers. Thank you, writers. You complete me.

Not so long ago, every city had a metropolitan daily newspaper with a section labeled “Culture.” These pages included articles about books, art, film, dance and architecture. And there was another section called “Lifestyle” where you could find articles about cooking, gardening, home renovation and health. I miss this way of looking at American life. Paying attention to politics is essential of course, especially nowadays when fascists have gained the upper hand in our country, but we should not forget that it is in art, as well as the rituals of daily life, that our humanity resides. In Vox Populi, I’ve tried to create a “Culture” section of the internet, and on the weekends a “Lifestyle” section. Read Vox Populi for the news that poets care about.

I imagine every poet has lines or stanzas that have been rumbling around in the back of his or her mind for years but have never found their proper place. When I was nineteen and home from college during summer break, I wrote these lines about the ancient oak in my parents’ backyard:

That oak is no antidote

for melancholy, but still

there is a certain solace

in the waving of its slow arms.

It’s been 47 years since I wrote those lines. You think maybe it’s time to give them up and move on?

When my own poems are rejected – and this is usually the case when I submit — I make a point of thanking the editor for considering the submission, especially if she says something that shows she actually read it. After all, there’s no gold or glory in being a literary editor. Pay is low or non-existent. And the only power that an editor wields is that of enabling work she admires to reach an audience. Writers should be more appreciative of editors, especially those who’ve rejected their work. Screeners, editors, publishers and funders make the whole field of literature possible, and they receive very little in return.

I had a family

of trees, and anther of plants,

and I talked and talked

with the animals I found

~ Gabriela Mistral

No one hates Donald Trump more than I do, and yet sometimes I look at him and wonder who could have hurt him so much that he has become this open running sore? If he weren’t so dangerous in his current position, I would pity him.

Every few years, as the political situation worsens in America, Eva and I discuss the possibility of moving overseas. After much deliberation, we’ve always decided to stay here and try to be part of the solution. Now we are old, and it is too late for us to start a new life in a foreign country. Should we have left before now? Perhaps. But I like to think that we’ve made a difference here, working for social justice and creating our books and poems and essays. And our reasoning in the past still holds: if good people leave, what will happen to the people still here who don’t have the ability to leave? So, we’ll make our last stand in Pittsburgh, fighting for what we value: a free and just society where children can grow up not fearing the police, and their parents can participate in a democracy that serves the people. In other words, we plan to kick butt and take names. Glad to have you, my friends, beside us.

I’ve been reading a few major poetry journals lately, and I’m pleased to report that there are many poets writing good poems, but oh lord, everyone takes THEIRSELVES so seriously. I had to take a break to watch a few scenes from The Three Stooges to cleanse my palate.

During the protests after the murder of George Floyd, the entire police department of Flint, Michigan, led by their chief, took off their helmets, laid down their batons and joined the protestors. This is how it’s done, folks.

The crime of which you discover slowly you are guilty is not so much that you are aware, which is bad enough, but that other people see that you are and cannot bear to watch it, because it testifies to the fact that they are not. You’re bearing witness helplessly to something which everybody knows and nobody wants to face. ~ James Baldwin

We live in an exciting time when the people are awakening from their sleep and going into the streets to call out the corrupt and greedy oligarchs and their lackeys in public office. We will not accept empty rhetoric and broken promises any longer. We will hold those in public office accountable for giving us the democracy we deserve, free from bias and bigotry. A nation where every child has food, shelter, safety and education, and every adult has the opportunity to make a decent wage for his or her work, and the opportunity to make a better world for the next generation.

I actually don’t like politics. I like poetry, dogs, children, and trees. But I feel at this time in our collective lives, not to be involved in politics is to be irresponsible. I enjoy posting poems a lot more than posting political articles, and my impression is that Vox Populi readers like the poems better as well. But until the country starts looking like a civilization and not an infected wound, we have to stay engaged. So, stay with me, friends.

Every writer is in a conversation with every other writer who has ever lived, going back to the first scrawls on cave walls and the first tales told around the fire. The old songs and stories need to be retold every generation in the current language of the people. In this way, writers pass the torch to younger writers who retell the old stories and make them new. Empires fall and buildings crumble, but songs and stories survive. Praise the mother who sings to the child. Praise the teacher who inspires the young. Praise the poet who finds music in the word. Praise the writer who records the moment and makes it eternal.

Photograph of Michael Simms taken by Eva-Maria Simms
Michael Simms (photo: Eva-Maria Simms)


Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

Michael Simms is the founding editor of Autumn House Press and Vox Populi. His new collection of poems is American Ash (Ragged Sky 2020).


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