“Creative response – is something we do, in answer to the question ‘What kind of world do you want to live in?’ Ultimately, creative response insists that each of us maintain the courage of our convictions to meet the extraordinary challenges that confront our world.”
For the last few months I’ve been exploring how writing can be a form of activism. I firmly believe that picking up a pen and writing is a revolutionary action, refusing to be silent and to give voice to our internal imagineering. Even if our writing is just shared between us and the page, we did it, we picked up the pen and wrote. We practiced courage. And whether we realise it or not, that simple act can profoundly impact us mentally, emotionally and physically - in unexpected ways. And that impact may then have a ripple effect in the world around us, within our families and communities.
We can choose to make our personal writing practice an agentic force by consciously infusing it with the intention to make a difference within ourselves and beyond. This was the inspiration behind “Love Will Conquer Hate”, a practice workshop for my masters programme, inspired by poetic missives that urge us to make positive changes in the world. The title of the workshop was taken from a line from Salena Godden’s seminal poem, ‘Pessimism is for Lightweights’ which she performed at the Women’s March 2018. By the end of the workshop, through creative writing, each participant had generated an idea of one positive social action they could take out in to the real world to make a difference. They left feeling uplifted and empowered.
I am further curious how writing as activism can encourage people who have been silenced/marginalised/excluded from mainstream society or who identify as ‘other’ to raise their pens and refuse to be silent so we can hear their voices and stories. I love Chen’s (2015) re-definition of these ‘others’ as the ‘counter-culture’. Un-silencing through writing has the potential to agitate, fracture and activate a necessary counterculture in poetry and creative writing, one that challenges the predominantly white, male, middle class domination of mainstream literature which “maintains the imagination of the status quo”. (Kim, 2015)
Author, Tony Morrison (2015) re-enforces the power of language to heal societies,
“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.”
Like literary activism, writing activism can further mean,
“simply living as an artist and so showing others how to even as they show you: showing up for each other, teaching and caring the way we are not taught to...”
This resonated with me. By creating a culture of imaginative caring and kindness through writing and by valuing our own and each other’s words with unconditional positive regard, we challenge the prevailing political, individualistic and consumerist cultures, de-colonising the imagination.
The poet Audre Lorde, in her essay ‘Poetry is not a Luxury’, describes poetry as,
“...a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams towards survival and change, first made in to language, then in to idea, then in to more tangible action.”
Like Godden, Lorde illustrates the power of poetry to change, moving from hope to real action and further states,
“Poetry is not only dream and vision, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”
Lorde perfectly describes how poetry can be both personal and social activism.
I was recently called ‘angry’ after delivering a workshop on writing as activism! Anger has a bad reputation, the focus being on destructive anger. Yet anger can be agentic and a creative force for good. If I am angry, it is a positive creative response to not be complicit by remaining silent. My authentic work as a facilitator is about un-silencing and empowerment. I am an ex-Social Worker (old-skool), I am political and I am activated by inequality and social injustice. I bring all of this passion in to my work creatively, purposefully and authentically. And with a lot of fun!
Definitions of activism range from ‘direct, vigorous and sometimes militant action’ (I think there could be some anger involved here!) to ’a philosophy of creative will’ (Chambers Dictionary, 2018). Renni Eddo-Lodge, author, has exercised her creative will through writing. She has been tone policed and described as an ‘angry black woman’. The truth of her experience is justified, rooted in her subjective experience and historical facts which maybe uncomfortable for others to acknowledge. If Eddo-Lodge is angry then she used it as fuel to write her seminal book, ‘Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ which is challenging and changing attitudes. She encourages ‘creative will’,
“If you are disgusted by what you see, and if you feel the fire coursing through your veins, then it's up to you. You don't have to be the leader of a global movement or a household name. It can be as small scale as chipping away at the warped power relations in your workplace. It can be passing on knowledge and skills to those who wouldn't access them otherwise. It can be creative. It can be informal. It can be your job. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you're doing something.”
It doens’t matter as long as you’re doing something . And that something may be picking up your pen and daring to write even if it scares you just a little bit.
* D’Ambrosio, Chen, Kim and Bocicevic references are taken from a brilliant article by Amy King on literary activism which you can access here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/08/what-is-literary-activism
* I highly recommend Audre Lorde’s essay, ‘Poetry is not a Luxury’ which has recently been re-published in the anthology, ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’. Read more about it here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/04/your-silence-will-not-protect-you-by-audre-lorder-review
* Hear Renni Eddo-Lodge talk about her work here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2vJZdeSqfFY