"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art.
Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so
great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour
is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Saturday, November 13, 2010

RE Slater - The Concept of Justice


November saw me writing again but not like I had been the year before when I was hungry to write and felt more highly creative.  And yet, during the past months, I have added several new poems, though my main task had been to re-read and edit my finished poems after having printed them into a singular collection back in June. Currently I have read or edited the first third of my poems but have so many more to read and consider that I believe it will take another year or two while writing and developing newer poems during this same time period. Moreover, time and distance has allowed me a more dispassionate review of my work, as I consider (i) whether the material is "readable" and "understandable"; (ii) whether the themes have gotten lost in the words; and, (iii) whether the style or "synchronistic beat" of the verse is how it was intended to be.  Ideally, I do not wish to re-write any of these older poems, but some seem so awkward as to require another editorial visit before leaving them in a final, more publishable form.

Most recently I have been working on a single ode these past several months that has driven me to distraction. I cannot seem to find its voice. What is written has become too preachy, too strident. Many times I have thought about deleting the entire verse and walking away from it. It has become one of my least favorites poems after having promised so much when I first set about composing it. It's entitled "Behold The Ruins of Athens" which was an altogether original title for me until I looked it up after completing it to find George Hill's magnificent piece. Ah well, at least it was original in thought and production, making me glad that I had composed it first before seeing Mr. Hill's most excellent work.

In summary, "Athens" consists of two pages, and though short, it's subject matter felt quite dense and complex; refused to simplify itself; and demanded that the reader read slow down enough to think through the word pictures and ideas presented within its narrative in constructive, thoughtful, fashion.  In hindsight I had thought about pulling this poem apart and re-composing one or two of its major ideas, but instead plowed on to put all my emotions and thoughts into tightly constructed phrases while hoping for the best.

And because "Athens" is so blunt and massive in its structure I finally decided on reconstructing it through the course of several drafts, wishing to slow the reader down to hear what I was trying to say.  Thus, the poem's original form was in 2x6 line meter which I indented every second line.  But the lines were overlong like my "Stars and Moon" piece and so, after three months of re-writing it ad-nauseam I decided on an entirely new poetic verse structure.  At first I tried a simple 4-verse meter to replace every two lines of the ode.  But this didn't work and served to "mudge up" its flow and rhythm.  Next I tried doubling the 6-line meter into an extended 12-verse format. This I liked a lot but then I modified it again by adding a tabbed indentation to every second line and that seemed to do the trick. It slowed the reader down just enough to consider the words while not overwhelming the voice and rhythm of the poetic ode. In fact, it seemed to "stretch out" the complex of ideas that it holds while "simplifying" the poetic ode overall.

These changes further necessitated a re-composition of several other related odes  each as similar in thematic tone and structure. And eventually, because of their similar voices and contents I placed them all together, side-by-side,  under a new chapter-heading entitled "Of Justice, War and Anthems". Thus I have four separate pieces that address the concept of justice and our personal response-and-accountability for justice's conveyance within society each day of our lives. Where these emotions came from I'm not sure - maybe from acts of injustice I saw as a youth, or perhaps from my reading of the Christian bible, especially in the historical sections of the Old Testament. But whatever the reasonings, I have attempted to recall those early formative and raw emotions into these poetic sections as imperative catalysts for acts of justice to be committed in the world today.

As a child, the unfolding drama of the American/Vietnam War played itself out in daily black-and-white pictures through the eyes and ears of television's evening news, as it showed the horrors of war brought to both friend and foe alike. Further, the harm and devastation witnessed from civil riots and political rallies around the country created for some very intense emotions when watching or reading about young people dying in clashes with police, seeing the hippie movement's disgust with society at-large, and beholding intense racial clashes over segregation. This came home all the more when saying goodbye to dad as he went out into these civil disturbances as a policeman dressed in full riot gear as a former Korean War veteran.

Generally (and perhaps idealistically) as free societies, we must  actively advocate living peaceably with one another regardless of our differences; seeking and praying for peace and goodwill among men daily, especially during times of hatred, misunderstanding, and unrest; siding with victims of injustice harassed or harmed by societal fears and ignorance; and in everything determine to show love and support to everyone we meet through open and honest communications, fair trade, tolerance, mercy, and forbearance with one another.  Free societies demand no less a commitment and no higher a calling. We are called to bring peace to all, seek justice for all, and to serve the exquisite riches of liberty, democracy, and honor as equal recipients of humanity's burden and privilege.

The concept of justice is so plain a concept to understand - and so quick a feeling of empathy to arise within us - when couched in cultural or national tones of prejudice and hate. And though we may think we might understand its meaning, it isn't until we are personally confronted by injustices that what we believe is only then truly enacted into acts of real justice. Where individuals are disparaged, harmed, murdered, persecuted or oppressed, than our hearts - our very emotions - must become intolerant towards the purveyors of those atrocities. Whether committed by bullies, or gangs, or overlords; whether despots or tyrants; if "peace and goodwill" are terms brutally ignored then "acts of justice" will never be a societal, nor a personal commitment, to restoring its abuses and neglects.

Because of this, I've created my poetic odes to be more warlike, more strident, as "drumbeats" to a nation's heart desiring peace and goodwill among men.  They speak to justice when love seems to have failed, and they show very little toleration for those evil men and women who cruelly harm others. Likewise, the Christian bible is very clear how important the compact of justice is between individuals and societies. That there is very little room for denying its observation of human rights when those rights are either casually or violently ignored in both moral and ethical tones by individuals and human institutions, from local to international levels.  For the very concept of justice and love intermingle each with the other. More simply said, "Justice is love outwardly shown, while love is Justice inwardly found. They are one and the same."

And so, in some small way I hope that my poetic creations continue to preach the values of justice and love as I've written them without apology for the strong language and imperatives used. I wished for them to be independent voices to all men everywhere who strive towards a supremely human humanity. To be moral and ethical with one another. To seek the virtues of Love and Justice. To decry acts of inhumanity. To seek the humanness of man in  his every act of vice and virtue. It is sometimes said that man is but brute beast, yet at his most human when just and loving. Conversely, when man is not just and loving, than truly he is but merely a brute beast worthy of extinction, ruin and judgment.


R.E. Slater
November 2010