Friday, May 11, 2007

NaPoWriMo 30: Responsibility (return to Poetry Thursday)

The last NaPoWriMo prompt just did not want to turn into a poem. I think I was all washed out by the end of the month, tired of writing poems in response to an external direction, rather than allowing the words to come from within me.

Today this is what came out. Like the last prompt, this isn't really my voice. There's a roughness and anger that I don't really own. In a way I think this is a frustration at not being able to finish my NaPoWriMo business speaking.

Some sad things have been happening here. A two year old girl was killed in her bed as a result of a drive by shooting. Teenagers were killed after a car was driven through a crowd of party gatecrashers. One girl was only 16. Her mother said that she was a good girl. Her mother also said that she couldn't protect her from every danger in the world. Her mother knew that the girl was going out, but did not know where she was going, what she was going to be doing, who she was going out with or who was in charge. It makes me sad that this girl's mother did not feel an obligation to watch over her daughter in this basic way, and that the girl's life ended so tragically.

I have also been thinking about the high pedestrian count in Wellington, and the teenage girl who was knocked over and killed on Cambridge Terrace by a pair of drag racers. The girl had been drinking and was on her cell phone. The boys were speeding.

At the same time the anti-smacking debate continues, with the media tending to report at either extreme. A woman who beat one child got off the charge on a reasonable force defence, then was later found guilty of beating her second son, who ran out onto the road in front of a car to escape her.

Another teenager lies in a coma, having taken a party pill. The headlines scream that the teenager is in a coma as a result of the pill, but the story documents that they drank far too much water, and that this caused the state of unconscious.

These things circle in my head. Our actions, their consequences, the stories we tell ourselves to try to find an excuse or forgiveness.

No Fault
One small drink.
One more shot at the
end of a series at the
finish of a hard night.
One for the road mate?
Nah, one for the

Place car keys in lock.
Open door.
Place car keys in ignition.
Start car.
Drive dumbass.
Drive straight through
the red light (what light?).
Drive straight through
the 16 year old girl with
her blonde hair fanning
in the warm evening air
and her cell phone
arcing poetically
through the sky landing
beside bone and
torn cotton and

So let’s allocate blame
shall we? Blame the
father with a length of
hose and the boss
with small-man syndrome
and the text message
and the antibiotics.
Not my fault.
Zero responsibility.

For a different take on responsibility, there's been an interesting discussion on artists' responsibility over on John Smythe's message forum. What is my responsibility as a writer? Is it, indeed, to frame history?

What if I am inspired to write, not by the grand themes of history, but by the minutae of my daily life? What if I am a mother writing about my child discovering the world? As it turns out, I often write about responsibility in the form of ecology and environmentalism, but not out of some self-indulgent delusion that by doing so I might in some way change things. Does that make my writing any less important?

In the end I think I believe that all of us, whether artists, writers, poets, mothers, fathers, athletes, actors, bus drivers, teachers, doctors and ditch diggers have an ultimate responsibility to live ethically, and to spread that ethos to the extent of our influence. In that way, powerful leaders have the greatest level of responsibility to frame, not just history, but the act of living, in a way that is of most benefit to mankind and the planet. Talk without action is empty.


Catherine said...

I think if we write what we think we "should" be writing, it comes over as inauthentic. You need to write about what powerfully moves you, as Robert Pinsky said, even if it doesn't seem important according to the "issues" of the day. Somehow the humanity will come through.
One of my workmates has a daughter who is in the same class as many of the people at that party. It does seem as if things are getting out of control.

Scotty said...

Well said, Pip, especially that last paragraph.