Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Poetry saving America Day 4 #NationalPoetryMonth

Lucille Clifton, who is considered a "wisdom poet" by Tony Hoagland, has written several poems in which memory is a central theme. We used Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-20 to match the title listed in Twenty Poems That Could Save America with the content below. Race and racism, and sexism, and agism, and a number of other isms continue to be such pervasive parts of American life that it's easy to see how Tony Hoagland could have chosen memory as the third of twenty poems that could save America. However, while poking about the internet to see what we might learn about this poem, we came across a moving essay on other Clifton poems relating to memory and gender. (We'll wait right here if you want to take a look.)

not everyone remembers the same trail markers
not everyone remembers the same trail markers
Photo by J. Harrington

Now that you're back, let's think about generational differences, a key theme in memory, and how, for many things, they may well increase with the rate of technological change in society. Our adult daughter grew up with computers and the internet. There were no such things when we were children. In fact, during our early childhood, television (black and white only, thank you) was not widespread.

Has racism diminished as much as technology has changed? Is the way we use technology in today's society increasing or diminishing racial acceptance? There would, most likely, be less racism involved in buying a pair of shoes online, but that would be simply a transaction, not an interaction. Can we build a community based solely on transactions? Would we want to live in such a community? How can we increase acceptance of "Others" in today's America? Would increasing the acceptance of poetry in our schools and daily lives help? On one hand, we no longer count slaves as 3/5 of a person, but, these days how many of our schools actually teach empathy and critical thinking skills?


by Lucille Clifton

ask me to tell how it feels
remembering your mother's face
turned to water under the white words
of the man at the shoe store. ask me,
though she tells it better than i do,
not because of her charm
but because it never happened
she says,
no bully salesman swaggering,
no rage, no shame, none of it
ever happened.
i only remember buying you
your first grown up shoes
she smiles. ask me
how it feels.

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