Today, a poem! This is part of a series on “poetry of reading”, a feature I intend to use as a regular update here on this blog. Your poetry suggestions are, of course, most welcome!
It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers
While I was building neat
castles in the sandbox,
the hasty pits were
filling with bulldozed corpses
and as I walked to the school
washed and combed, my feet
stepping on the cracks in the cement
detonated red bombs.
Now I am grownup
and literate, and I sit in my chair
as quietly as a fuse
and the jungles are flaming, the under-
brush is charged with soldiers,
the names on the difficult
maps go up in smoke.
I am the cause, I am a stockpile of chemical
toys, my body
is a deadly gadget,
I reach out in love, my hands are guns,
my good intentions are completely lethal.
passive eyes transmute
everything I look at to the pocked
black and white of a war photo,
can I stop myself
It is dangerous to read newspapers.
Each time I hit a key
on my electric typewriter,
speaking of peaceful trees
another village explodes.
(by Margaret Atwood, 1939-)
Published in 1968, “It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers” portrays a reader haunted by the atrocities reported in the news. Literate, the reader not only cannot escape the news, but likely experiences a responsibility to read them, to inform herself, and even attempts to reach her own readers so that she may make the world a better place. Yet all her attempts are futile. She cannot shake of the sense of responsibility and guilt, and although we may find it difficult to relate to her uncompromising verdict, “I am the cause”, we can certainly understand that the mere act of reading the news — of just sitting there, “quietly as a fuse”, witnessing the horrors of the world from our living rooms — has a touch of the absurd, the more so in this day an age when news has become an entertainment commodity and each war comes with its own jingle.