Bridge & Knit: The State of Poetry

by Jennifer Jean
Jennifer Jean moderates the panel on the State of Poetry at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

What is the poetic aesthetic interested in bridging or knitting rifts between people or peoples? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t exist—though it’s necessary, it’s needed.

Poetry requires “giving attention to” things, or notions, or emotions. So, what would happen if we gave our attention to what heals? To what works and changes? Something somewhere heals, works, changes! Would this aesthetic only be concerned with “aboutness” or would a form/at emerge? This requires some discussion and observation.

In the meantime, if we look at a huge swath of the (non-definitive and solely American) poetic-movement timeline as regards emotions:  we’ve shared (romantic), and retreated (modern), and shared (beat and confessional), and retreated (language and elliptical), and now we’re back to sharing (slam/spoken/performance), but we’re starting to retreat again (neo-conceptual and juxtapositional). 

Let’s get off this roller coaster! It’s a distracting, go-nowhere loop. Or, at least, let’s install another ride at the park.

Let’s figure out: what is poetry’s contribution to, or revelation of, healing processes? That’s the only “state of poetry” I’m interested in. This state brings us closer to transcendence, to unity. A moving towards these, an effort, is worthwhile. Much more worthwhile than mere emotive exposure, or mere mental stimulation. Those gestures are not enough. They’re malnourishing. They’re all about:  seeking and never finding. "It is good to be a seeker but sooner or later you have to be a finder,” said Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (And if you’re eye-rolling at Mr. Seagull just know I almost went off on a “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?” rant. But didn’t.)

In poetry we’ve our own chicken/egg argument—so say the poets, so goes the world; OR: so says the world, so say the poets. I think I’ve finally landed on one side of this argument—on the former positon. Let’s lead, poets. Or, at least let’s fake it till we make it. Write the healing, let the healing begin. From sea to shining sea. Starting, I suppose, with “the me” in the mirror.

Starting, I suppose, with me—here’s my poem, originally published in Ibbettson Magazine, which showcases the heroism of one of our greatest Americans:  Harriet Tubman. I think earlier in this essay I intimated that present situations should be a focus of this “bridge and knit” aesthetic, but I’ve found that’s a difficult place to start. To be honest, I don’t know for sure if this piece is a viable contribution—but I hope it is: 

Love All the Girls

One twenty-first century buyer’s solution to sex-trafficking: “Kill all the girls.”

For instance, little “Minty” Ross. 
If you kill her she won’t
see baby Moses
hidden from sale by her mother
Rit, won’t know Rit’s promise
that—the first man
that comes into my house, I will
split his head open
This girl will
not spark
and know to skedaddle,
or send along a song
to her mother in Maryland—
I’ll meet you
in the morning, I’m bound


for the promised land… If you kill her,
she won’t North Star,
nor conduct, nor stare at her hands
in free Philadelphia
to see if she was the same
person
. She won’t be crowned
General, nor own herself, nor name herself
“Harriet.”
She will never unslave, unthether,
hundreds and hundreds
at night, in war. This Ashanti,
this granddaughter of rape,
this scout, this spy, this girl
seized up and revealed—

if you kill her

the “Lion of God,”  of reason, Mr. Douglas,
will have no heart
to say—the midnight sky                                                           
and the silent stars have been
the witnesses of your devotion
to freedom
, and Harriet
will never, about the Choptank River,
about that final footfall
after 90 miles,
reply—the sun came like gold
through the trees, and over
the fields, and I felt like I was
in Heaven


Jennifer Jean’s poetry books include: The Archivist and In the War. She’s released Fishwife Tales, a collaborative CD; and, her writing has appeared in Caketrain, Drunken Boat, Poetica, Tidal Basin, Poets/Artists, The Mom Egg, Denver Quarterly, and more. Jennifer blogs for Amirah, an advocacy group for sex-trafficking survivors, and she teaches writing at Salem State University. For more on Jennifer, visit: www.fishwifetales.com.