Interviewed by Lisa Vihos via email, October 16, 2015
Name me a poem that has changed anything. It’s hard to do, right?… not impossible, but challenging. But that’s only when you think on some kind of grand scale, like Raul Zurita bulldozing a line of poetry into the Chilean desert so the military jets above would have to read it when they fly over … things like that. More importantly, though, art changes people—experiencing it and making it. If I read a Melvin B Tolson poem and it even so much as informs me of something I didn’t know, it has changed me. So if it delights me, or outrages me, or disturbs me or arouses me or—God forbid—inspires me … if it breathes it’s spirit into me and possesses me for the rest of my days (and I assure you it has), then what am I going to do with that inspiration? Well, inspiration is crazy infectious, so it’s going to exponentially multiply itself and possess everyone around me too. And then what are we, as a huge communal family, going to do with that inspiration? We gonna change some shit, baby! How can we be changed and the world not be changed with us, too?
So just allowing people to come together, share those bits of themselves with each other, talk about things that don’t get talked about at work or in so many churches, etc. … simply creating that space is holy. But it’s not just doom. It refreshed and inspired the people there. We weren’t just complaining, we were being with each other to remind ourselves what can be done about it. I read a poem about a blue bird that I picked up, because it seemed injured. But then, after 5 minutes of me holding it, it burst into flight. And that’s what this is all about. Picking up our injured selves and remembering we can still do more than we may realize—more is possible. So it inspired all the people there, then we bring that out into our greater community and keep circulating the spirit of kindness, compassion and love and, before you know it—woah—things are different. Sometimes in intangible ways, sure. But sometimes in political ways, in economical ways, in statistical ways … on and on.
Even more than all of the symptoms of sickness that could be given attention through 100TPC, though … I think our hopelessness is what might need the most attention at an event like this. So how do you give hopelessness attention? Do you read poems about hopelessness all night long? No! You read poems about hope all night long. Or maybe not even about hope … just poems that inspire hope.
Poetry is a spiritual practice. We need to be inspiring and re-inspiring each other all the time—coming back to our first Love. Because it’s just so easy to get hopeless when you’re fed corporate messages of hopelessness all the time. So maybe more than anything, we need to remind ourselves and each other not to believe the lie. We need to remind each other that more is possible than what our eyes tell us. We need to remind each other that worms eat garbage and crap out the best fertilizer in the world. We need to conspire—to breathe together—and, in so doing, inspire. We need to help each other remember how to breathe.
Nick Demske is co-founder of Bonk!, a Racine-based community of poets, artists, and activists.
“Wisconsin Poetry Activists” is a flash interview series by Lisa Vihos, which grew out of research that she conducted for an article in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Turning on the Lights, Spring 2016.