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#POETRY: Turning the Garden of Language

(From an installation by Jenny Holzer, MASS MoCA) We respond to life with language but we can create it with language as well. We all know the destructive aspect of this truth. Words can create oppressive and fatal structures. We know about racist language. But it can become equally insidious among people of good will. We have been told that boomers are the cause of the grim world now faced by millennials. Instant alienation! In fact, there is no such thing as a Millennial or Boomer beyond the years they were born. They are not a homogenous demographic. They were at the Pride March but they were also at the Trump rally.

I had an argument with a young person about "trigger warnings" recently (me contemptuous of them) and she said, as if in defense of her sensitivity, "we are the first generation that has advocated for ourselves." I thought, you mean the people who fought for Civil Rights and Reproductive Rights were not advocating for themselves? She’d created a binary where there was none.

Here I introduce poetry. You know, that stuff most people don’t read but are deeply influenced by. A lot of words and phrases we use come from William Shakespeare but since he’s not much read and probably only rarely studied in school people don’t know this. Poetry is the constant turning of the garden of language, of making it new in spite of using the same few thousand words over and over again. It’s very hard work. It’s something like musicians using the same eight notes over and over again and yet still moving and enriching us. Think about it. Poets are working for us all the time, often in the dark. Their work finds its way slowly into the language. Sometimes it comes from song lyrics, but there are even more private shamans working to save your life.

Be conscious of what you say. You are creating the world.

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