Theodor Adorno's famous comment, "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric"... It rises to mind as a perennial barb, a thorn in the flesh of the thumb that holds the pen. Its moral question is too powerful a check on sentimentality about this artform to ignore or forget.
What can one do with it? How can those of us who have continued to write continue to write, once ears and tongue hold Adorno's bitter reminder?
First, we can, I can, take it seriously. Any poem can be weighed on its scale. Not forgetting joy, not forgetting the capacity in us for cruelties surpassing prediction, and their quotidian, ordinary causes.
But also: Adorno's dictum can in the end be weighed and understood as itself a primarily poetic statement. It is a howl of grief and horror. Read so, it springs alive outside of right/wrong evaluation. Read as poetry, rather than dictate, evaluative absolutism is replaced by some fuller sense of its meaning and its work in us. It raises not behavior's judgment but an insoluble question: what person would say such a thing, for what cause. It makes us think, and feel, what he did, knowing we do. Whether or not we agree still matters, but steps back a notch in importance.
Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Celan, Anna Akhmatova, Nellie Sachs, Yehuda Amichai, and countless unnameable others have in any case proven: poetry continues. That we still quote Adorno's statement proves something else about its merits: its need for saying. This sentence is, in its own remembrance, a provocation and reason to keep writing poems.
Causes Jane Hirshfield Supports
International Campaign for Tibet