1053: Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World

1053: Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World

1053: Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I invited a coworker to join me at a concert of Carl Orff’s dramatic classical work, based on twenty-four medieval poems, called Carmina Burana. “Music and poetry?”, he says “I don’t know.” He begrudgingly came along, but not before declaring he has never heard the composition nor does he particularly care for choral music.

On the first point, I assured him he has heard the opening movement in at least a dozen films, and on the second point, he just hadn’t come across a performance worthy of his admiration. That, or he is an incorrigible philistine. We laughed.

At the show's end, after multiple ovations, we filed out of the theater. We were both exhausted from a powerful performance of voices and orchestral instruments. My coworker asked, “How could I have survived so long without that music?” I looked in his face and said “We don’t.”

His question echoed the substance of my wife’s sentiments when experiencing works of sublime virtuosity – Alvin Ailey's moving choreography in Revelations; Kamasi Washington's gorgeous jazz album The Epic, Romare Bearden's groundbreaking collages of The Block and just about everything Ava Duvernay has written and/or directed to date – each time, Didi says, “As long as this exists, humanity will be okay.”

I am drawn to the idea of art as a barometer of our collective wellbeing, as

essential to our survival. To imagine our lives without film, literature, music, visual arts, theater, and performance is to court a post-apocalyptic vision of the world that is ill, emaciated, and hollowed of its dreams.

Art is unequivocal evidence of our sanctity, of our ability to feel, to go beyond forbidden precincts into the depth of our emotions. I wish we would put a moratorium on questions of relevance of the arts and realize the gift of beauty that artists grant. One need not listen to a lecture on the philosophy of glass by a glassblower to know that its functionality and purpose are everywhere, writ on its surface.

Today’s poem evokes the other function of art: to prime us to embrace enchantment when the world cannot see itself beyond its ongoing strife and oblivion.

Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World
by Katie Farris

To train myself to find in the midst of hell
what isn’t hell.

The body bald 
cancerous but still
beautiful enough to 
imagine living the body
washing the body
replacing a loose front
porch step the body chewing
what it takes to keep a body

This scene has a tune
a language I can read a door
I cannot close I stand
within its wedge
a shield.

Why write love poetry in a burning world?
To train myself in the midst of a burning world
to offer poems of love to a burning world.

“Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World” by Katie Farris from STANDING IN THE FOREST OF BEING ALIVE © 2023 Katie Farris. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.