Nicole Law takes up Pope Francis’ challenge to be a ‘social poet’.
I was pleasantly surprised when Pope Francis recently addressed members of a meeting for popular movements as ‘social poets’. As someone who writes poetry in her free time, I was intrigued by his reference.
“You are social poets, because you have the ability and the courage to create hope where there appears to be only waste and exclusion. Poetry means creativity, and you create hope.”
Francis touched on the essence of poetry – an exercise of creativity to give voice to different perspectives and to build a broader narrative. For poetry is both a tool and a metaphor for creating spaces where people of diverse backgrounds can come together.
Words themselves are powerful – a poem can be a rallying cry to face the inequality which surrounds us and a reminder for us to soften our hearts.
Poetry itself forms the basis of dialogue between various groups of people – both within the form of the poem itself and its message. Think of a poem as a conversation between two people; one is shedding light on his or her lived experience and the other is gaining a better understanding. And understanding is key to further dialogue. It generates a virtuous cycle which reduces the likelihood of suspicion or one-dimensional interpretations of contexts and cultures we are unfamiliar with.
In fact the very nature of poetry presupposes the existence of various levels of meaning, of nuances in perception and shades of signification, which might require time and effort for them to yield themselves. And all this with words carefully crafted and aiming at beauty. If only our social communication were more sensitive to the nuances of people’s experiences and understanding and could express itself with greater care, with patience – and with words carefully crafted aiming at beauty.
Ongoing dialogue is what is needed to negotiate fault lines in societies. To some, it may seem like a needless conversation with no quantifiable outcome. Dig a little deeper and you will realise that a willingness to sit down at a table to engage with another person prefaces the building of a strong friendship. We will not be able to address collective issues if we adopt a hands-off approach.
Addressing problems of inequality, exploitation and intolerance, as highlighted by Pope Francis, requires a radical shift in approach. As a religious figure, Pope Francis imbues me – and, I suspect, half the world – with a sense of optimism. What he proposes is a reorientation of human values, away from power, monopolies and profit towards human beings and their inherent dignity. He invites us to ‘dream together’.
Dreaming may appear to be a futile practice – lacking a certain groundedness in the nitty-gritty of reality. Yet the Pope fully recognises the importance of concrete action and suggests changes to the economic system – a reorganisation of the gears which turn to keep economies in motion.
Indeed, for all his poetic vision, Francis’ proposals couldn’t be more concrete: he calls on pharmaceutical companies to release patents to the poor; extractive industries to stop devastating the planet; technological giants to stop spreading hate speech and fake news, and more.
Likewise tax and redistributive systems are essential to ensuring that economies grow but the Pope ‘dreams’ that those on the periphery might not be left out from sharing the fruits of this growth. Is this a daring proposition? Definitely.
There is still much to be done with respect to improving our economies to ensure that the distribution of resources is both efficient and equitable. Indeed,as the Pope says: “The world can be seen more clearly from the peripheries.” In other words, from the viewpoint of those on the margins, those excluded.
This is most certainly radical poetry because poetry is all about a new perspective on reality.
Seeing the world from the prism of those suffering rather than from that of the privileged is a bold new vision indeed.
Perhaps it is time for us individuals to take on the role of ‘social poets’ to bring issues in our local communities to light. We may use words in the form of captions, tweets and even articles like this one to challenge the status quo. A better way forward is definitely possible, if only we realise the intrinsic power of our ability to hope and to rekindle the zeal to make meaningful change.
So yes, maybe the pandemic has confined us to our homes. And yes also, we may feel ourselves ‘languishing’. But let’s open our eyes to see those affected by job losses, economic uncertainty and food insecurity. Let’s start to listen, to assist and to empathise.
Let’s take one step away from the minor inconveniences we face and start to see the world from the peripheries.
Enjoy Nicole’s weekly column? Click here to read her recent piece in which she explores why writers write.
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