Since the beginning, I have been accused of being didactic in my writing. This is something that perhaps can be excused in writing non-fiction, but in the world of fiction and poetry, many view it with scorn. I guess that I have found it my duty to use whatever talent I might have been endowed with and have cultivated to create things that raise awareness and at times tries to wake people from their slumber to see how we are living our lives and if that really jibes with what we need to do.
This tendency even bled into my early poetry and perhaps still does. It is something that James Joyce felt was too heavy-handed and creates lower art. As Joyce said:
The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. These are kinetic emotions. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I use the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.
But compare this with the ideas of Richard Powers who believes that if there were ever a time for didactic art, the time is now:
In short, novelists are always trotting across a swaying, pencil-thin tightrope. How to be “moral” without being “didactic”? I happen to believe that collectively, we humans are deeply, dangerously deranged, and that only a profound shift in consciousness and institutions regarding the significance and standing of nonhumans will keep us viable in this place and lift our awful sense of moral abandonment and species loneliness. More than that, I believe that vital, vivid fiction can play a unique role in producing that shift in consciousness.
For me there have been many awakenings in the course of my education, formal and otherwise. I was misled, often by way of omission, to see the world in ways that are less true than if certain information had come to light. I feel that I am not alone in this miseducation, especially in my years in academia.
Throughout my adolescence and young adulthood, I had a compulsion to champion injustice. My journaling frequently reflected my frustrations with becoming increasingly aware of the all too frequent inequity between actions and consequences.
One such entry was an impulse to share with people something that I was late in coming to, namely the history of Klaus Barbie, a murderous Nazi who tortured and killed thousands of innocent people but was protected by the US government and allowed to “escape” to South America where he continued to ruin the lives of countless souls. He was known to many as “The Butcher of Lyon.”
Klaus Barbie and a Realization
It was this realization that inspired me to pen the following poem that my editor advised would best be cut from Subterranean Mixtape. Perhaps it did not fit in the book, but I would like to take the moment to share it with you now, at risk of being didactic, in hopes that perhaps it could be helpful to remember a piece of history that apparently many have wanted the world to forget.
The Butcher of Lyon
Klaus Barbie how can we forget?
Yours is the face I must name,
into cinders you threw Hebrews,
After the dust,
later you watched the ashes of native bodies smoke,
who is the god to whom you pray?
Have you a song different than
your benefactors at the CIA?
Truth must follow,
captors always take the best,
wishing for our minds to lie fallow,
skeletons never laid to rest
just tucked away.
About the trouble onto people you have wrought,
Not my brothers and sisters by name,
Barbie don’t think we have forgotten,
many share in the pain of deception
Hearing helpless screams of the slain,
swimming in a sea of Lies.
Are you familiar with this man, his misdeeds, and his protectors? Do you believe that there is a place for this kind of work in the world or is it so heavy-handed that it doesn’t really constitute art and therefore it is superfluous, not worthy of the time to read much less write?