The unedited draft from Black Kos Tuesday's Chile 8 December:
Voices and Soul by Justice Putnam, Black Kos Tuesday's Chile Poetry Editor
It is a great honor to be included in one of the most important serial diaries on dKos. I hope to not only entertain one's sense of how Art and Poetics intersect with Politics and The Human Condition; but also to share the voices that so deftly make that intersection known. There will be Poets in this series that are immediately recognizable in the pantheon of American Letters; I want to remind those here then, of those famous names, but I also want to introduce those not so well-known.
Bob Dylan wrote in the liner notes of Bringing It All Back Home that,
"A poem is a naked person."
And it's true; it is the proverbial mirror of the soul dynamic. But it is not just the mirror of the poet's soul, it is also a mirror of the culture, the nation's soul; and in the process of giving voice, poetry becomes alive. In life, Poetry is not a noun; it is not a description or name of something. In life, Poetry is an adverb; it's an Action Word.
I've often been asked what makes a particular Poem, Art; and another poem, not? A Poem becomes Art when it can attain that state of Timelessness; when in any age, it can have relevance to the reader of the Poem, while not knowing of the time the poet wrote the Poem, (that relevance becomes even more so if the reader does know); when the reader can indentify with the poet's point of view on the most visceral of levels; when the Poem has and communicates, Soul.
Elizabeth Alexander is more recently known for her poem recitation at Obama's Inaugural; but I was introduced to her superb work from a much earlier poem.
She states in the voice of the individual, how we are all sinners, we have all violated some Social Order; that we are all a:
Maryland State Correctional Facility for Women,
Baltimore County Branch, has undergone a facelift.
Cells are white and un-graffitied, room-like, surprisingly airy.
This is where I must spend the next year, eating slop from tin trays,
facing women much tougher than I am, finding out if I am brave.
Though I do not know what I took, I know I took something.
On Exercise Day, walk the streets of the city you grew up in,
in my case, D.C., from pillar to post, Adams-Morgan to Anacostia,
Shaw to Southwest., Logan to Chevy Chase Circles,
recalling every misbegotten everything, lamenting, repenting.
How my parents keen and weep, scheme to spring me,
intercept me at corners with bus tokens, pass keys, files baked in cakes.
Komunyakaa the poet says, don't write what you know,
write what you are willing to discover, so I will
spend this year, these long days, meditating on what I am accused of
in the white rooms, city streets, communal showers, mess hall,
where all around me sin and not sin is scraped off tin trays
into oversized sinks, all that excess, scraped off and rinsed away.
-- Elizabeth Alexander