Healing Chant in the Face of the Nuclear

by Marilyn Kallet on March 20, 2011

Nuclear Plant

photo by curryosity on Flickr

That was my arrogant title for a poem I wrote a few years ago when I was living in Auvillar, France, a few miles from a nuclear plant. Though the French seem at home with nuclear power, that very summer had been one of the hottest on record, and the rivers were heating up, causing some doubt about cooling the plants. That summer there was an earthquake in Japan, and a nuclear reactor was affected, though nothing as dramatic as what we’ re seeing now.

My friend Francis, who lives in the village where the nuclear plant is located, says the neighbors there have extreme doubts about how their health might be affected. The problem is, no one really knows.

I’m going back to Auvillar in a couple of months, and the sensory joys of the place will blot out the uneasiness that it’s easy to feel near the plant.

And my poetry will continue to keep the field wide, so that as much experience as possible will be permitted to enter the field.

But here’s my question: Is it still okay to write poems that don’t in any obvious way deal with the disasters ? Or does poetry owe it to our cousins in Japan or in Libya to write about devastation and harm ? Is it enough to write love poems? Is true that the feminist philosophy I grew up with–”The personal is political”–still applies?

I have friend who includes current affairs in every poem, and she does it well. So why am I sick of that ? Is it cowardly to just want to write love poems?

Please answer before Friday, when I’ll be re ading with my politic al friend at a popular public venue!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

W.F. Rhoads March 23, 2011 at 8:03 pm

It seems to me that a poet needs to write about what they know, what they love, what they feel, what they think, not what others want to hear, or out of a sense of ‘moral obligation’ . If love poems are what you feel then write love poems, if nuclear disasters are what you have a passion for then write about nuclear nightmares, or anything else that moves you. I spent 29 years in nuclear power, 12 in the US Navy operating nuclear submarines and 17 as a control room operator in commercial power plants. Personally I find poems about nuclear disasters about as interesting as watching grass grow, but if that’s what you have a passion for then write away.

Reply

Marilyn Kallet March 24, 2011 at 8:18 am

What an interesting life you’ve led! I’d love to talk to you some time about your work operating nuclear subs. Have you written about that?

I’ve been writing and publishing for more than 40 years, and have written about everything under the sun. I’ve taken Holocaust oral histories, and have written erotica, and about rhinoceroses. Subject matter is less important than the quality of attention dedicated to it.

That said, my question is real and not an easy one. What is our responsibility toward the world, if we have skill as writers? Where do we direct our attention?
In the shadow of a disaster that affects the planet, does one sail merrily on the
surface with the personal lyric love poem? It’s an honest question, and one that
has lingered among poets since the Holocaust. What is possible, what is ethical in the lyric poem?

All of my poems are love poems, in the sense that they are life-oriented, and about love of language in addition to whatever else they may be “about.”

I admire my friend who can include current events in her lyrics, and do so artfully. I admire her staunch advocacy of human dignity and environmental
protection in her work.

I’m not her though. And my obsession is Dante (the reincarnation of Eros as
the great poet), and I will have to write him through to the end of the story, wherever that may take me.

All good wishes to you in your work, with thanks for your responsiveness–
Marilyn

Reply

Jeff McMahon March 24, 2011 at 10:34 am

Marilyn, I love this: “Subject matter is less important than the quality of attention dedicated to it.”

That would be a great theme for a writing course. Give the students a series of unappealing assignments and teach them, through attention, to bring forth good stories or poems.

Reply

W.F. Rhoads March 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm

I think we all lead interesting lives in our own way. I think life in and of itself is a very interesting phenomena don’t you think? Yes, I have written poems about being on a nuclear sub but not many. A lot of my earlier poems were written while living on a sub, so I suppose they were influenced by that environment.

I know that your question is a real one, and I know that it is not a simple answer. I apologize if I seemed to over simplify it. I have a bad habit of doing that.

I too have been writing for over 40 years and have written on many subjects and topics.

thank you for your question and good luck to you also.

W.F. Rhoads

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Marilyn Kallet March 25, 2011 at 7:31 am

Where can I read your poems? You’ve had quite a life and you’re kind and good.
Thanks! Marilyn

Reply

W.F. Rhoads March 25, 2011 at 8:42 am

Thank you for your kind words. Over the years I have written a few thousand poems, most of which I still have on my computer, although some have been lost with time.
I have a blog where you can read some of my poems. It is http://www.wfrhoads.blogspot.com. I have had several books published by a place called Alpha Beat Press out of New Hope, Pa but I don’t believe they are still in business, and I doubt they would have anything of mine left, as it has been many years since then.
I have a current book titled ‘even Einstein knew that’ which is available through Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble, but if you like I can send you a copy (either through the mail or via email). My email is WFRhoads@aol.com. Again if you are interested let me know.
I did look at some of your writings on your blog and found them very enjoyable. You obviously are a very accomplished writer and I am honored to have been able to have a conversation with you.
Thank you,

W.F. Rhoads

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