Sackville poet Marilyn Lerch fought back tears Sunday, Feb. 10, as she addressed almost 100 people at the Owens Art Gallery during the launch of her fifth book, That We Have Lived At All: Poems of Love, Witness and Gratitude.
“Coming here was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Lerch said, “and for these twenty-some years, your wisdom and friendship and activism have nurtured me and enriched me in measureless ways.”
Lerch, who has just finished a four-year term as Sackville’s poet laureate, received many rounds of applause as she introduced and read several of the poems in a collection with a wide range of themes: community; love and loss; a sustained celebration of the Earth’s natural beauty; and anger and foreboding over the ways in which human beings, their systems and technologies are relentlessly destroying that beauty.
“Poets have to tell the tale of our time,” Lerch said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say we are being hunted by powerful forces whose consequences are often deliberately kept secret or unknown; forces that have already violated the carrying capacity of our Earth; forces that have created unprecedented inequality giving power to the few over the many.”
Lerch read “What Do You Have to Say for Yourself, Poet?” the first poem in a section of her book called “In These Anthropocene Times.”
the turning point is past,
the worst is yet to come.
Having clawed to the pinnacle
the ruins strewn below,
what made them
the rapid descent,
so find a clear running brook
and say your goodbyes.
we know we cannot go on like this
and we know it will go on like this.
We know what must be done
and we know it will not be done,
not in time, not in time,
so listen to a songbird and weep.
As her audience listened intently, Lerch read through her poem’s stanzas to a kind of final affirmation:
and yet I say
because the collapse is upon us,
because accepting the unacceptable is no longer
an option for our species,
we are called to heroic acts,
to live within
the great acceleration of fire and advancing waters,
the desperate eyes of animals and children,
with some grace and
to suffer, fall, fail, keep on,
sing play paint
how much, what, who ends,
yet to be known.
Seeds of goodness,
seeds of courage
still being sown.
Poetry of disappearance & acceleration
“In the most general terms, my poetry comes out of a preoccupation with disappearance and acceleration and how what it means to be human is changing,” Lerch said.
She explained that by disappearance she meant extinctions of species and also what she termed the disappeared.
“By that I mean capitalism’s implacable war against any group, movement, uprising or nation that threatens it,” she said, adding that the many U.S. interventions in Latin America, including the current one in Venezuela, are an example of this war.
“Acceleration to me refers to technology produced without thought to the precautionary principle; the mania for newness is both cause and effect of consumer pathology,” she said, adding that both disappearance and acceleration feed global warming.
Lerch drew laughter when she wondered about the advent of computers that process 10,000 financial transactions per second.
“What do you do with that?” she asked.
“How ironic that globalism creates tribalism,” she said. “How incredibly fast the dream of everyone connecting to everyone else on the World Wide Web has morphed into cyber-warfare, voter meddling, shutting down a nation’s electrical system.
“I believe that digital domination will continue to condition us if we allow it,” she continued, “as one part of our civilization seems bent to making us hybrids, machine and muscle, partially robotized, and invaded and implanted with God knows what.”
In her poem “The Last Luddite Addresses the Lonely Vapourized Crowd,” Lerch suggests ways to act against “the encroaching darkness swallowing us” by bowing our heads to:
perform acts that feel right and lovely in themselves,
create profound, poignant, terrifyingly beautiful art,
make our lives ever-extending webs of love,
and, if we can,
let arise from the deepest recesses of our hearts
a tenuous trembling moment of gratitude
that we have lived at all.
During the question and answer period after her readings, Lerch said she makes no apologies for writing poetry that deals directly with the big political issues of our time.
“I think Adrienne Rich said ‘poetry doesn’t change anything, but nothing changes without poetry’. I like that,” Lerch concluded.
This article was first posted on The New Wark Times.
Bruce Wark is a journalist based in Sackville.