What have you done in the last year to respond to the upheavals in American politics? In the first of several short essays we hope to publish on this topic, poet and teacher Maureen Jones advises: keep writing.
Two days after the 2016 election, people arrived in my writing workshop talking non-stop. Their disbelief, grief, anger, and guilt at not ‘having done enough,’ ricocheted around the room. It was a challenge for them to focus on the page. In the weeks that followed, this scene repeated itself over and over. It still occurs as travel bans, scandals, judicial appointments, global diplomacy, tweeted insults, nuclear threat, LGBT military bans, ACA repeal, tax overhaul, Russian conspiracies, FBI firings, white supremacy marches, unfurl in rapid-fire chaos.
It became apparent that my challenge was to offer in equal measure a place where people could form a sympathetic and active community to process this new order, and a place where people could find sanctuary from the madness they encountered each day as they navigated the news feed, their colleagues’ and families’ opinions, and their own sense of assault.
In every writing workshop since the election, someone writes a political poem, essay or short story as a way to not only make sense of where they are on any given day as the maelstrom whirls, but to form a resistance within themselves for how they will respond, how they will hold their internal line for what is unjust, unconstitutional, and ugly.
In every writing workshop since the election, someone writes a poem, short story, or bit of memoir that is a deep reflection of their creative spirit. It is an expression that rises from their personal need to craft art out of experience and vision. These pieces of writing also a form resistance, a way of holding to the self, and not become swallowed in the tsunami of ignorance, fear, and hate.
Creative writing is a direct attack on political strife. Consider Angela Davis, Adrienne Rich or Muriel Rukeyser. Creative writing is a profound counter-rebellion to the diminishment of spirit. Consider Anna Akhmatova, Maya Angelou or Eileen Myles. A creative writing workshop may be the one moment in a week where we can disappear, escape, be self. A creative writing workshop may be the moment in a week where we can link words and arms to hold strong.
Maureen Jones is a poet, novelist and writing teacher. The author of Blessed are the Menial Chores (2012), a book of poems, she is the Executive Director of Amherst Writers and Artists, in Amherst, MA. You can read more about her work, and her workshop held around the country, here.