Sunday, January 09, 2005

On the Ethics of Tsunami Poetry

In the comments section, Eileen poses the fascinating question of whether it would be immoral for poets to travel to the site of the tsunami in order to write poems, and whether the answer would depend on the theoretical underpinning of the project. Whew! A big question.

Well, I'd say that the very fact of travelling to the site in order to write poems is not immoral. It is what journalists and photographers do all the time. If poetry matters, then poets should be encouraged to chronicle events in their poetry. I don't think that print or tv journalism or photography is necessarily more factual than poetry, because, like poetry, journalism and photography requires establishment of a point of view, choices of exclusion and inclusion, and subjective focus on specific elements of a much larger events. (On the other hand, it's not an easy question, because poetry is also an art form that accepts much more of a role for the imagination.) And I'd say that it is fine for poets of all races/ethnicities to go there.

I think that the harder question involves the ethics behind the theoretical underpinning of the project. Of the Yasuasda hoax, I stated, I think that the moral violation here most fundamentally lies in the author's portrayal of extreme, collective suffering on his own person without actually having suffered it himself or felt the suffering of those close to him. So, for example, if a poet goes there and pretends to be a survivor of Sri Lanka, I consider that to be a moral violation. This rule would apply to both Asian-American poets and non-Asian-American poets. But I also think that it is an interesting and valid point that, under certain circumstances, for example, satire or parody, we must give more careful consideration to whether we need to carve out an exception to the rule. At this point, I'd say that it depends on the particular circumstance.


Blogger Amy Unsworth said...

For clarification's sake: do you mean that you oppose personas that would speak from a victim's pov?

4:35 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hello Amy, thanks for the helpful question! No, I think that such persona poems are fine. I'm referring to, for example, the poet actually representing him/herself as a Holocaust survivor in the biography that she/he submits to the publication with the poetry. But I'm also still rethinking it.

11:04 PM  

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