Singing in Dark Times – #1 in a Series – Bertolt Brecht and Warsan Shire

German poet Bertolt Brecht (1989-1956)

German poet Bertolt Brecht (1989-1956)

Epigraph from Motto

 In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times.

Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, Eyre Methuen, 1976

Potent words. Words, I see quoted a lot these days. So, a danger of over use. But considering that Brecht was a voice calling out over the Heil Hitlers of pre-war Germany, his is an important voice to hear no matter how often it’s repeated.

In what feels to me, like the beginning of a dark time, I want to celebrate the singing.  Not knee-jerk twitterings, off tune, but genuine , dare I say, soul-singing. A singing that can declare and also in the declaration, perhaps, begin the repair.

I dedicate this blog to my friend Anne-Marie who asked if I was finding poems for dark times. I have. The one’s I quote are not consoling but they remind me why poets must keep singing.

Here is some prose singing by an inspiring thinker and writer, the nonegarian John Berger,

Every authentic poem contributes to the labour of poetry… [which is] to bring together what life has separated or violence has torn apart…. Poetry can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates. And it does this by its continual labour of reassembling what has been scattered.

John Berger, from The Hour of Poetry, in The Sense of Sight, Vintage 1993

Oh, how authentic poems call out to what separates us.  But how I fear Brecht’s chilling lines in this poetic excerpt below: However, they won’t say: the times were dark/ Rather: why were their poets silent?:

from In Dark Times

 They won’t say: when the walnut tree shook in the wind
 But: when the house painter crushed the workers.
 They won’t say: when the child skimmed a flat stone across the
 But: when the great wars were being prepared for.
 They won’t say: when the woman came into the room
 But: when the great powers joined forces against the workers.
 However, they won’t say: the times were dark
 Rather: why were their poets silent?

 Berthold Brecht, Poems,1913-1956
British Somali Poet Warsan Shire (1988 - )

British Somali Poet Warsan Shire (1988 – )

Today I hear the voices of many poets today singing out of the dark happenings in their lives. their country’s life. One such poet, whose poem Home has become a rallying cry against the American President’s refugee ban, is British Somali poet, Warsan Shire. In the past few years she has become a celebrated poetic voice. She was appointed London’s Young Poet Laureate in 2014 but became even better known, especially on this side of the Atlantic, when Beyonce featured her lyrics in her recording, Lemonade, last year.  And Penguin has just released Modern Poets 3 – Your Family, Your Body which features Shire, along with Sharon Olds and Malika Booker.

Here is an excerpt from Home:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

A strong poetic reply to the American president. But the poem that brought Shire to my attention is this one with its striking final lines that remind us how much suffering through violence and war is happening all over the world.

what they did yesterday afternoon

they set my aunts house on fire

i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Warsan Shire, from her Blog

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *