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Initially published in NeWest Review, February/March 1989
and then in Twentieth Century Poetry and Poetics

Lorna Crozier, From 'Who's Listening?'

'We are telling you this because you are sensitive people, because you are poets. We know you will take our stories back with you, you will put them into words.'

All across Chile that's the kind of reaction we got when people found out we were poets. No matter what they had gone through, no matter what terrible position they were in , they believed in the power of words. There was an overwhelming respect for poetry and what it can do, and that respect made me feel I had to write about what I heard.

When Patrick and I got back to Saskatoon, we wrote a radio script about out trip for the CBC and we wrote some poems. I didn't want to write from the point of view of someone who understood Chile; in the poems, I didn't want to pretend to be someone who had put her life on the line. Instead I tried to find the connections between my experiences there and here, between the people I met and me. I wanted the poems to come out of the nexus of the two worlds, that place where they and I met and knew each other. Poems can only happen in a moment or recognition, of intense and clear seeing ...

Our trip took place over a year ago, but I often think of that woman and hear her words, especially when I need to be reminded that poetry somewhere has value - when I see the narrow shelves of poetry books hidden away in the backs of book stores (if they are there at all), when ten people show up for a poetry reading, when poems are used merely as 'fillers' in all but literary magazines, when the man beside me on the airplane become uncomfortable when he asks me what I do and I reply. In countries like ours, even the poets see themselves as slightly eccentric and out of place, often alienated from the very people they write about.

The words We are telling you this because you are poets are what keep me going some days when I feel depressed by our society's lack of interest in poetry and other arts. Yet I'm taking the easy way out by finding comfort in her words - I don't live in Chile, I live in Canada, and although I was inspired by the faith of that small peasant woman, I write for my own people and out of my own peculiar place. Nor do I want to romanticize the poetry loving country of Chile - I would rather live in Canada as an ignored poet than elsewhere where I and my countrymen and women would have to fear for our lives. so I must come back to the question: Why do I write when no one is listening?

Flaubert said, "you must write according to your feelings, be sure those feelings are true and let everything else go hang." I write because I am angry, because I am in love, because I fear the passing of foxes and owls, of all beautiful things. I write because the world is mortal and I and those I love are dying.

I write because I want to tell myself the stories. I never heard as a child, as a grown woman, the stories I still can't find in books. Adrienne Rich says, "Begin with the material. Pick up again the long struggle against lofty and privileged abstraction. Perhaps this is the core of the revolutionary process, whether it calls itself Marxist or Third World Feminist or all three ... a rebellion against the idolatry of pure ideas, the belief that ideas have a life of their own and float along above the heads of ordinary people - women, the poor, the uninitiated."

I throw out the poem like a net and pull things together with thin threads of language that need mending, that need new patterns to catch the light. this is my woman's work, pulling these threads through my voice. I write for the deer I become in the forest, for Gwendolyn MacEwen's green thunder, for the woman who named her daughter 'Liberty', for the man next door shovelling his walk before his children get up for school. I write because I still believe that words have magic, that they can change things, like the Medicine Man who give my friend a Cree name to treat her cancer because the herbs he's prescribing wouldn't recognize her without it.

I write for the best part of me, my real audience, the ideal self that sits somewhere in my strudy and hears the lines of the poem as I revise and read out loud, and sometimes get it right. I write in case someone, anyone, is listening.

Lorna Crozier's works copyright © to the author.

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