Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Who is a witness?
As the poet E. Ethelbert Miller likes to point out, James Baldwin spoke of the witness as being altogether different from the observer, as the witness is called upon to testify. We are all witnesses to our country’s outrageous prison-industrial complex, which has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. Let me say that again: The US has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. The people we lock up – mostly poor men of color – are voiceless and considered altogether expendable.
I have also not yet read CD Wright’s book, and I’m with those who have not been moved by previous work I’ve read. But I am in favor of any poet or artist, indeed any citizen, drawing attention to the human impact of our policy decision to lock up so many of our brothers and sisters. The stronger the poems as art, of course, the more effective they will be. But how can we question a poet’s right to write about our inhumanity as a society? Isn’t this, in fact, our responsibility?
Thanks. One more thought on this-- J. K. Rowling, an interesting person for sure, said in her commencement address at Harvard, that imagination, which she described as the key to empathy, the ability to enter the experience of another, is always her goal. She wrote that she realized that possibility, in an internship at Amnesty Int'l when she was asked to pick up a torture survivor at the airport. She had no idea how to think of his experience but knew that imagination was part of the key.
Just another thought. JR
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