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 self-righteous despotism.

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.

Jon Tribble