The Writer as Conscience
Last week I posed this question to my students: “What is the role of the writer in society?” One particularly bright student said. “The role of the writer is to inform upper class people of what is going on in society so that they could bring change”. I restated the student’s response in this manner: “So then one could infer that the storyteller/ writer is the conscience of the people”. He concurred. The writer Karl Keating writing on the role of the conscience says, “Conscience is the faculty which warns you that you’re doing something wrong — or neglecting to do something right that should be undertaken”. My hope is that in some small way I could be a tiny conscience to others on the issue of domestic violence.
In the role of society’s conscience of sorts, I try to accurately describe issues experienced so that at the end of a poem or anthology a reader can at least say that the writer understands what I am experiencing. In my anthology/memoir I try to portray myself as a real person in a quest just like my readers so that my dilemma becomes theirs. At the forefront of my mind is to portray the universality of the issue at hand, and the dilemma of being human. Thus as conscience the writer begins by being a mirror reflector.
As a metaphoric conscience I aim not to be a mirror that reflects to distort and sensationalize but one that brings clarity to the human condition. I reveal my life with an authenticity that makes me vulnerable to be misinterpreted, misunderstood or frowned upon. Yet I feel compelled to chronicle my experience with a fidelity that has the potential to convincingly expose the dark underbelly of the society and of the self. You see it is my belief that one only has what one gives away. In giving myself away like this and leaving myself open and vulnerable it is my hope that I could persuade others to make psychological investments in human kind. It is my hope to inspire others to bring the change that the student spoke of or at least to agitate to make that change happen. Certainly, I want to spur them not to neglect to do something right or to undertake that which should be done to address the situation
In the poem below I reveal how my life was shaken in the aftermath of domestic violence. In the process not only do I leave myself open to the criticism of others, but I become my own worst critic. Because I try to write with honesty and sincerity at the end of the process I see myself and examine my thoughts and become self-critical. Here is where writing becomes a painful experience as it is hard to face your truth. Even though you may want to take back what was written it is already written and taking it back does not make it less of the truth. Ultimately, I resolve the matter by admitting that it was my truth at the time, but I have grown away from that position.
In honesty I try to show the pain that was my life. As I look back on this poem I see the pain that was my life. I see the ugliness in me that caused me to question my faith- which is my center, and I feel ashamed. I see my weakness and I am critical of myself for allowing circumstances to move me like this. I am still trying to forgive myself for this error.
I hope the poem that follows touches hearts and minds, causes you to have opinions and inspires you to make a difference.
My God! My God!
Why hast thou dealt so harshly with me?
Why hast thou forsaken me?
O God of my childhood,
sweet gentle Jesus,
I had not known you thus.
Why are pain and unhappiness
constant residents of my being?
God, remember how we were
intimate once, You and I?
I was the lamb frisking
in the green pastures of your presence.
We communed then,
You and I,
while all heaven looked on.
It was good then, so good, Lord.
Now visions of the grave rise
before my eyes and scare me.
Every moment I fear the end,
for in the menace’s eye
is the ominous presence of death.
And what is left?
A God who seems absent,
abuse from within and without
at the hand of a stranger—lover and brother.
Oh, my God, it never stops.
I’m the cornered fawn,
before the heinous hounds of hell.
I’ll be good, I say to the menace,
but that’s not enough—
nothing I do is ever enough.
I weep in the shackling gloom
Crossroads and similar poems can be found in my book Splendor from Ashes