In Defense of Poetry
A Letter from Jon C. Tribble
to Susan Guma:
| Dear Susan Guma,
As I mentioned in our conversation, I fully
understand your decision to cancel this year's
Campbell Corner Poetry Reading, though I am
disappointed to not be with you today. I am
heartened by your decision to hold a reading
"In Defense of Poetry" and I know the words
of Tom Lux, Suzanne Gardinier, and Phillis
Levin will bring together the community at
Sarah Lawrence in the face of the suffering
and loss brought on by the 11 September attack.
The announcement of today's reading on your
website mentions my poem "The Spider's Surah"
as "prescient," and it saddens me to have
to admit that is true. I wrote the poem as
a cautionary exploration of the psychology
and price of fanaticism, a topic I was especially
concerned with as the year 2000 approached.
I chose the story of al-Hakim in part because
he ruled Cairo at the turn of the first millennium
and in part because I had visited the mosque
that bears his name and was distressed to
find that a figure as disturbing as al-Hakim
would find any followers in the world today.
With so many pronouncements of 'the End of
the World' being made by fringe religious
cults and televangelists in our time, I hoped
to find a way through this poem to give a
voice not only to the fanaticism behind such
destructive visions but also to speak in the
voices of those who suffer as they try to
lead normal lives in a world corrupted by
As the tragic events of 11 September demonstrated,
inhumanity knows no calendar, and it does
not disappear simply because time passes.
Our only real defense against such violence
is to fight it where it lives and breeds--in
the hearts and minds of those that can see
no other way. Our efforts--our deeds and words--must
show that love is more powerful than hate,
peace is more powerful than war, and compassion
is more powerful than brutality.
I will be taking part in an event similar
to your reading "In Defense of Poetry" on
our campus this Thursday, and my thoughts
will be with you this afternoon as your campus
takes this step forward toward healing.