Email Interview by Lisa Vihos, November 24, 2015
I do think poetry can help bring change of many sorts, not just political/social, but personal and spiritual. A poem is life distilled, focused. It can tap into our shared human experience, help us recognize truths. “Ah, yes, that!” So, poetry can help change by connecting people, building empathy.
I think poetry’s power to inspire empathy can bring increased understanding, therefore reduce prejudice and fear toward those who are different—whether the differences are around culture, race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, experience, or anything else. That clears the way for peace, justice, community.
Personally, my return to poetry was sparked by my several cancers, so my writing is often therapeutic. Sharing my story through my poems has been a way to connect with others and to raise awareness of the specific hereditary cancer syndrome I have, and encourage others to know their family medical history. I find that people feel emboldened to tell me their own stories, whether cancer-related or not. This, too, is community.
Around the state and the nation there is a lot of fear and closed-mindedness. Those in favor of social justice can find a powerful tool in poetry, whether addressing the refugee crisis, terrorism and war, racial injustice, LGBTQ issues, incarceration, immigration, or the environment. It’s all about mindful compassion.
Sarah Gilbert coordinates the Poetry Rocks! reading series in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“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.