Sackville poets Marilyn Lerch and Geordie Miller warned an audience of about 35 people gathered outside Struts Gallery on Friday that we have less than a decade to save the planet and that poetry won’t be enough to do it.
“If things continue to go like this, [with a] system organized around the accumulation of capital, profit maximization, all of that, what we’re living through is incompatible with saving the human species and the planet,” Miller said.
“And that I learned from Marilyn’s work and from her poetry,” he added. “She writes about that a lot and quite sharply.”
Miller was responding to Lerch’s call for radical change.
“Something has to give,” she said.
“There has to be some kind of coming together of the peasantry who are affected by climate change and the proletariat, some kind of massive international movement [and] I think it’s going to happen if we don’t destroy everything first.”
The two poets made their comments during the official launch of their new book Disharmonies, a poetic conversation they began in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we knew that COVID was an X-ray of our society,” Lerch said.
“That it was going to show us the flaws, the inequality…all of that,” she added.
So, she said, without much to do during the pandemic lockdown, other than think about that, she wrote to her fellow poet Geordie Miller and they soon began a collaboration that resulted in a 37-page poetic dialogue.
Keagan Hawthorne, proprietor of The Hardscrabble Press, which published Disharmonies, described the book as a conversation against capitalism.
“Angry, honest, comradely, despairing, their lines belong to and look beyond a world organized to generate profit rather than satisfy human needs,” he said.
The poets read samples from the book including a dialogue that begins with lines from Miller, followed by part of Lerch’s response:
because poetry is not enough, no one has to decide how it will die.
less than a decade left so please not another lyric, not another interview, not another book launch, not another workshop. only words that lead beyond words, if possible. plus tactical imperatives like which Irving facility to target first…
Agreed: Poetry is not enough
even if there were enough of it
but no change without it…
Three kinds of people
In response to a question from the audience, Geordie Miller noted that there are three kinds of people in the capitalist system.
“There are people who say that capitalism’s working great and it’s good for everyone,” he said. “That’s obviously a right-wing, reactionary position.
“There are people who say, ‘Capitalism is not working great, we need to fix it,'” he added. “And, that’s kind of a liberal position, to reform, to fix capitalism, to make it work better because of its effects.
“And, there are people who say ‘Capitalism is working exactly as it’s designed to do…and it’s horrific and it’s monstrous and it’s horrible.'”
He added that Disharmonies was written by two poets who belong in that third group although, he also pointed out that in his best moments, he feels hopeful about the future.
For her part, Marilyn Lerch urged everyone to try exchanging thoughts with another person as she and Miller had done.
“I wanted to hear words from him and then I just wanted to sit with him and we did, sometimes for days…We really took time to hear each other,” Lerch said.
“There was trust and I think where there is trust, there is hope and I’d wait for him to send me a few words and then I’d just think about them…and so, I would just write where it took me,” she added.
“I just urge people to do it, two people back and forth, back and forth, or maybe three.”
To learn more about Disharmonies, click here.
To read about it in Marilyn Lerch’s newly updated Wikipedia entry, click here.
Congratulations to you both. I share a favorite poem below. I hope your poems will be remembered if it all burns down.
Kneeling at the pipes: a poem by Marge Piercy
Princely cockroach, inheritor,
I used to stain the kitchen wall with your brothers,
flood you right down the basin.
I squashed you underfoot, making faces.
I am relieved to hear somebody
will survive our noises.
Thoughtlessly I judged you dirty
while dropping poisons and freeways and bombs
on the melted landscape.
I want to bribe you
to memorize certain poems.
My generation too craves posterity.
Accept this dish of well aged meat.
In the warrens of our rotting citites
where those small eggs
round as earth wait,
spread the Word.
Perfect. Two old white hippsters preaching the anti-white, anti- male any anti anything . And they made their living/pay cheque/pension from the white university? If they decide to grow up and actually decide to make real change? No, progressives don’t actually do that. They like the show but don’t really do results. So sure, be against capitalist’s – just don’t actually do anything about it.
This is a very good description of the “Disharmonies” launch — an hour under a blue Tantramar evening sky presented by two remarkable poets — an hour which reminded us that poetry can be the hardest-hitting, most direct, powerful way that words can be put together. That poetry can be both beautiful and terrifying. And that poetry “is not enough”. This review delivers a clear “description” of the event, but actually BEING at this reading and hearing the poetry delivered by its writers was a most incredible experience. This poetry deeply moved me, opened my heart, and at the same time opened the crack a little wider enabling us to glimpse the human folly which has brought us to this abyss. The courage it takes to stand before a group of people and read poems such as these, cannot be underestimated. These two poets show leadership of a sort that the world desperately needs.
Before revolutionary hobbyists sneer at liberals and others who think capitalism has a role to play in the prosperity and freedom we all (including poets) enjoy, they’d do well to read about the toxic wastelands communism created before it landed on the trash heap of history.
Take a look at the pesticide-poisoned desert that was once the Aral Sea. Capitalism didn’t do that. Central planning and collective farms did. The inefficient coal-burning industries of the communist bloc left a legacy of environmental catastrophe that is still around in Eastern Europe. The same with communist China.
Socialism and communism were all about materialism, not the environment. Remember that when tossing around tired old Marxist buzzwords like “peasantry” and “proletariat” – neither of which apply in any meaningful way to farmers and working-class people in a country like Canada.