‘Poetry is an act of peace’

I came across this quote from Pablo Neruda when I was preparing my workshop for Bridging Arts at the Truro Museum in June, and it was very much in my mind as I watched the writers who came to the workshop engaging on a deep emotional level with the stories in the ‘Heart of Conflict’ exhibition, about the Cornish experience in wartime.

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Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread. Pablo Neruda

Writing is always about connection, whether we’re writing poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction. In stories, we connect with the characters we create; they come alive for us because of the way they make us feel. In non-fiction, we connect with the ideas and experiences that spark our interest and passion; in poetry, we connect with the symbolic layer of the psyche, where meaning is not objective and exact, but something the heart understands.

Every kind of writing connects us with our shared humanity and helps us feel and appreciate the rich complicatedness of our shared human condition.

I’m thinking about this quotation again today because we seem to be bombarded in the news with reports of appalling acts of ignorance and cruelty, from the vicious suppression of citizens in Catalonia to the treatment of the poor and disabled by our government here. The maverick gunman in Las Vegas. Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump… well I really have no words for them.

What we have, on the side of civilisation, is books. Reading, like writing, strengthens empathy, creates connection. It’s frightening to me that communities are losing public libraries, and schools are losing libraries too. Children are not encouraged and taught to read for pleasure, but rather to analyse and imitate, in order to gain good marks.

In my familiar world of children’s writing, the World Book Day list has just been announced. It’s full of books by celebrities, as if books by wonderful authors are somehow of less value than those that carry a famous name on the cover. We are not teaching children to value writing, but only to value fame.

Sometimes in the madness that seems to have the world in its grip, it can feel as if our civilisation is going to Hell in a handcart. Writing and reading are small acts of rebellion against a dominant ideology of greed and division.

I was really keen to teach the poetry workshop in the ‘Heart of Conflict’ exhibition – it felt like a privilege to have that opportunity. It felt like something really good to do, and I loved the ethos of Bridging Arts, which is all about creating connections.

I’m delighted to say that I’ve just heard from Bridging Arts that they would like me to run some more writing workshops next year in the run-up to the centenary of the end of WW1.

Write, read, remember. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s important.

What do you think? Does reading and writing feel, to you, like ‘an act of peace’?




8 thoughts on “‘Poetry is an act of peace’”

  1. I strongly agree with you, Jenny that our children seem to connect with celebrities rather than wonderful authors and they’re not reading for pleasure. I am reminded of the time I went to our local primary school to offer to listen to the children read. I had time on my hands, and having just moved to a new area, I wanted to do something useful. It was also a way of getting to know people. But when I went for my interview the head teacher had been called away, with no apology and I was never contacted again.

    1. I wonder if teacher training attaches enough importance to reading and writing for pleasure, Julie? Reading your comment, I remembered when I first moved to a new area, I offered to run a free writing club, as I had in my previous village. The response was that they were always happy to have new volunteers to help with their after school club. The writing offer didn’t seem to register as something of value at all, so I let it go.

      1. oh Jenny reading and writing for pleasure! Scarcely happens. everything has to be functional, have a purpose or measurable outcome. There’s much I could say about this serious lack. when I stole away with a book to my room there was always a lovely furtive feel. then I’d hide my current book under the class novel or leave the book on my knees while the teacher rabbittted on… I realise now they left me to it and I’m grateful that they had the freedom to give me my freedom to read.

        1. I love that your teachers let you get on with it, Anne! I fondly remember my news book age 6 or 7, which I’m sure started my deeply enjoyable practice of keeping journals ever since. We just wrote what we liked, drew pictures, and it was never marked or graded.

  2. Yes! Both reading and writing are two of greatest forms of therapy. I realized years ago that writing in my journal always puts my mind at ease. It was a somewhat accidental discovery, but a very pleasant one. The lack of interest in reading among children in the U.S. is as disturbing as the decrease in physical activity. It’s like they’re all getting lazy and stupid, and no one seems to care, except the literati who are relegated to the attics of elitist obscurity. Here in Texas, one of the biggest complaints among parents and even some educators is that children spend too much time preparing for tests than they do actual reading and studying for the sake of becoming educated. Then the U.S. wonders why we’re behind in so many academic subjects!

    I’m glad you separated President Trump and Kim Jong-Un from civilization, Jenny! There are few greater global symbols of arrogance and disdain for facts than those two clowns.

    1. I didn’t have words for those two, but you’ve summed it up brilliantly – ‘arrogance… disdain for facts… clowns.’ 15 years ago, when we in the UK started down this test, test, test route for educating children and narrowed learning down to a national curriculum, I wondered whether it was a deliberate political strategy to create a more stupid society that would be easier to manipulate and control. Now, in TV shows and politics, we admire and are amused by stupidity, accept lies and don’t value educated opinion at all. It feels like a very rapid cultural dumbing down.

  3. I love Neruda but never came across this quote. I like how you break down how we try to connect with different things depending on the type of writing we are doing. Regarding the Neruda quote, I find it interesting because when I engage in writing, it feels, in a big way, like a fight more than anything. My composition doesn’t feel peaceful, but dramatic. Perhaps it’d be fair to say the actual composition is somewhat peaceful–I guess I’m talking about the flow state–but the intent is to grab the reader and mess with their peace, many times. Neruda obviously wants to grab the reader too, but his approach seems much more zen than mine.

    1. What an interesting comment! I was reading your blog yesterday, and I do enjoy your writing – I guess readers and writers can connect over all kinds of ideas if they’re well expressed and interesting

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