This Difficult World

The world feels hopeless to me, writing in the middle of 2018, in a way it has not to me before. The difficulty of the world is not new, and this is not the first time it has threatened to destroy individuals, communities, lifeways, nations. But to me, a white cis queer woman in her late 30s, this is the first time that everyone I know — and I mean everyone — is daily fighting despair.

The best way I know to fight despair is through poetry: reading it, writing it, sharing it. Poetry is sometimes an antidote to despair, yes — but sometimes it is also the perfect distillation of it, a lens through which we can finally see ourselves, a barbaric yawp. In a time where everything that is not profitable is discarded and dismissed, engaging with poetry is a form of extreme resistance: a refusal to grant our time and attention to those who would monetize them.

In her essential 1977 essay, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” Audre Lorde wrote:

[Poetry] is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

Picture of Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, and Adrienne Rich in 1980
By K. Kendall – originally posted to Flickr as Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, Adrienne Rich 1980, CC BY 2.0,

I am trying to find ways to make language into tangible action. I am trying to think through and past what I already know. So I am reading, and rereading, poems that speak to our times. I hope you’ll join me.

This blog is named after the first book of poetry that I read that seemed to be directly about the world I live in: Adrienne Rich’s An Atlas of the Difficult World. I was 16 or 17 when I read this book, and it electrified me. I come back to it every few years, when the world becomes difficult again.

From “Through Corralitos Under Rolls of Cloud”:

That light of outrage is the light of history
springing upon us when we’re least prepared,
thinking maybe a little glade of time
leaf-thick and with clear water
is ours, is promised us, for all we’ve hacked
and tracked our way through:     to this:
What will it be?     Your wish or mine?     your
prayers or my wish then:     that those we love
be well, whatever that means, to be well.
Outrage:     who dare claim protection for their own
amid such unprotection?     What kind of prayer
is that?     To what kind of god?     What kind of wish?



I struggle with this question every day: who am I to wish for those I love to be well, when so many are not well? What kind of prayer is that? What kind of god would grant it?

An atlas doesn’t tell you where to go. Instead, it presents you with a map upon which you can plot your own decisions. Poetry is the same: it does not tell you how to be a human. It simply shows you what a human can be.

Let’s read it together.