Responsibility

This isn’t a poem that leaps gladly from the lips, rather it stumbles on the tongue. It helps to know the poet is a teacher and activist. From accounts that I’ve read, her activism took first priority in her life. With all of that in mind, I hope you’ll find the poem of value.

It helps to know poets have long been feared by governments striving to overcome those who pursue freedom of voice. Poets have been executed and jailed for such. When you get to the end of the poem don’t miss the words about Cassandra. She was a prophet whose words were discounted yet her prophecies came to pass.

Responsibility                                                                                    Grace Paley

It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet

It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman

It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners

giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets

also leaflets you can hardly bear to look at

because of the screaming rhetoric

It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy

to hang out and prophesy

It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes

It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory

towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C

and buckwheat fields and army camps

It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman

It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman

It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the

Quakers say

It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the

powerless

It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no

freedom without justice and this means economic

justice and love justice

It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original

and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems

It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it

on in the way storytellers decant the story of life

There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no

freedom unless

earth and air and water continue and children

also continue

It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on

this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be

listened to this time.

 

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