“What needs to be defended in writing is what’s offensive.” –Charles BernsteinI travel with a poet through six states toward a place where there are five banks within five blocks and when I ask where the best place to get a cup of coffee, I am answered with: “7-11.”
We are here for a poetry festival and I feel as far from NYC as one can.
At the University where everything is happening, we go to a Q&A with three editors and hear what not to do as writers. They end it early, so they can catch the art reception happening upstairs in the library where there will be free cookies and crackers. The artist speaks only briefly because she needs to catch a plane and is waiting for her driver to pick her up.
I start to wonder why we are here.
Suddenly, it is suppertime and the only happening place to eat is a Mexican restaurant, but they serve hotdogs, so we head to the cafeteria with three other poets.
Seven dollars to get in and it’s ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT.
As we eat, one poet asks about censorship. How do you know when to hold back what you say? Like, not say something because it could offend someone?
I think about all the rooms I’ve listened to others and all the rooms I’ve shared with others. We could go around and ask about trigger warnings and words to stay away from and gestures that are offensive, but that may leave us in silence.
I told him that if you make someone angry or make someone ecstatic, it’s all the same. You’ve made someone feel with your words. Isn’t that what you want? I asked.
Another poet added that if you feel compelled to read something, then go ahead. If there is urgency, give it space to roam.
Today, I take the stage and suck up my allotted twenty minutes. I think about what stirs me and these infamous trigger warnings.
I just want to feel something. I want you to cause me to write. I want you to give me more words to expand my vocabulary. I want you to cause me to question what I know.
After reading today’s column, a part of me hopes that you are one of the poets they celebrate at the end because yours is the kind of message they need so much. BUT, part of me also hopes that you are not further recognized because your message is likely to just confuse them – “How do you know when to hold back what you say? Like, not say something because it could offend someone?” indeed! That is like asking how to stop thinking or communicating, or for someone like you and Dan, “how do you hold back breathing?
Your function here, my favorite writer person, is to wake them up or let them sleep and just move on.