Although I write little of it myself, I often remark about poetry of witness, poetry that lives as a testament of something that is remarkable as it exists in the world. I do not speak of poetry that takes a position, that is partisan, but poetry that looks at something and reveals it to us. I site the poetry of Muriel Rukyser as an example—she is one of the great under-appreciated poets.
What little poetry of witness I have written is about war as I saw and lived it in Viet Nam and now we are engaged in war in Afghanistan and Iraq and with the access to expression so available in this electronic age an abundance of wartime literature is piling up. Via two different sources I came to a NY Times story about contemporary war writing. I urge you to pursue the link and the stories referenced.
It is difficult to write poetry of witness for it takes objectivity, authentic knowledge and poetic skill. It is not located close to inspiration on the spectrum of things that prompt us to write and so demands more conscious work at expression. Yet, it is as witnesses that poets can be especially skilled; after all, observation is our thing although it so often is observation of the unseen. Poetry of witness calls us to expose what is often readily visible but which remains seen by too few.
Much of the great value of this type of poetry is that it puts the poet at the center of society, a place poets have generally abdicated and, nature abhorring a vacuum, has been filled with less tasteful and honest literature. So, I call poets to read the news, get into the issues despite the barbarous, despite the censure, despite the savagery of the opinionated who want to prevent us from revealing things as they are.
After all, what is your job as a poet if not to reveal?
So long for now.