“Palimpsest i.e. a parchment from which one writing has been erased to make room for another.” H.D.
In a letter, a recent heartfelt iteration of the old dilemma:
my question/concern for you, david, is a selfish one
lately i have been unable to write because i am unsure of poetry’s significance outside of the “community” and i want what i spend my time doing to be socially/politically engaged.
why do i spend so much of my physical, mental and emotional energy on poetry, when it often seems that this energy would be better spent directly engaging the issues poetry talks about/around? is my engagement in poetry a sign of cynicism and escapism? am i running on bad faith?
so i guess my question for you, david, is how do you deal with these questions on your end? how do you think of poetry’s capacity to reach people besides poets and to maybe try to do something in the world?
And David writes a generous letter back, saying, among many other things, “I have no fixed answers… on any of the questions you raise, which are after all the questions—only ongoing conversations, speculations, hopes.”
If you’d like to read their entire exchange, see Thom Donovan’s “Other Letters.”
Bill Viola, in “The Eye of the Heart,” the hour-long BBC documentary about his life & work (filmed, produced and directed by Mark Kidel) responds to these questions about when he was studying at Syracuse University. He says, “When I think back on that time, I have to say that there was a very strong interplay between political, social activism and artistic exploration. Those two things were, in my mind anyway, part of the same process. I didn’t think of them as at odds with each other. It was the Vietnam Era. Political protest, in my generation, was, you know, kind of, part of daily life practically, and that was my kind of coming of age in a political sense.”
“I think the turning point for me was when I did a Room for St. John of the Cross in 1983.”
“my works are first and foremost made for myself. They come from questions that arise from my own experience…. ” Bill Viola, Reasons for knocking at an Empty House
Practical. A part of daily life.