Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. – Gloria Anzaldua (1942-2004)

We all know that words have tremendous power. They are the means by which we name ourselves, describe our experiences, connect and interact with others. Words bring intention into our lives; they create and mold reality. For that reason, as poets, we bear the responsibility of both shedding light on realities we wish to change, and enacting that change through our words.

When I speak to my students, I begin by asking, “what do you see, hear, and feel? What stories do you carry that need to be told?” It is a powerful act in itself – to give testimony to our experiences. Then, after they have begun to spill their histories onto the page or from their lips, I say, “look forward now. What do you want to see, hear, and feel? What stories do you want your future descendents to tell?”

Although a culture of denial, of commercial gluttony, of ugly individualism works hard to keep us isolated in our cubicles, potato couches or bought-on-credit cars, humans are empathetic creatures. We find ourselves depressed when we don’t receive enough sunlight. We balance our workaholic days with spending sprees at the mall, with alcohol or Prozac. We stuff down those shining moments of concern for people with scary, violent movies. We harden our shoulders against the homeless person asking for the change we really do have deep down in our pockets.

I think of poets as the creatures who, try as we might, can never truly numb our empathy. We were born with, it seems, a heightened capacity for feeling. A capacity that gives us both a certain responsibility, and exposes our hearts and souls to an insensitive world.

Copyright Aimee Suzara 2006