Occupy This Poem, Part One

1. The Charlatans of Paradise 

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti has written that the poet is a kind of prophet, “the antennae of the race,” tuning into the troubled soul of the world. Not prophetic in the Biblical sense, but in the sense of prognosticating the tenor of the future by projecting from the trends of today. Of course any good financial analyst should be able to do that, but he won’t be able to tell you where the heart will be five, 10 years down the road. He can’t tell you what it will take for the human soul to keep its joy, its dignity or its sense of wonder alive. That’s the poet’s job.

Beat poet Ferlinghetti—still revolutionary in his 80s. Courtesy MetroActive.

So here for what it’s worth is my own contribution to the Occupy Movement, the title poem of my 2005 collection, The Charlatans of Paradise. I actually wrote this poem in 2001, on the heels of the 1999 ‘Battle in Seattle’ that erupted over the WTO protests. It occupies the tradition of the rant, a time-honoured form of poetic outcry fallen on hard times in recent decades. Although most creative writing courses will tell you the rant is now passé because it ‘tells rather than shows,’ I consider it a useful poetic mode if carefully crafted—a shock tactic, if you will.

And in re-reading The Charlatans of Paradise, it’s interesting that many of the concerns raised by the Occupy Movement are echoed in its lines. It should probably be bookended with Star Seeds, which is hardly a political poem, but ends with a sense of exultation that this poem may not. My favourite review came not from any literary source but an artist friend who once said, “This poem should be posted on every telephone pole.”

(For some reason WordPress will not allow me to keep the original line breaks in the poem. For more on The Charlatans of Paradise please see http://www.chameleonfire.ca/books.html)

The Charlatans of Paradise

The charlatans of paradise

come in all shapes, sizes

and skin colours,

but like the infamous snake

of Eden, can only move

in one direction—backs

flat against the wall,

thin as shadows

in the sun’s puppet play

of pawns

stretching toward dusk.

Look around you! No Devil

raging in his chains of fire

could have dreamt up such a Hell—

Worn-out souls starving on the sidewalks

of the wealthiest cities on Earth;

Protesters held at bayonet-point

by mirrored helmets guarding the rich

in their feudal glass towers;

The planet gasping

through a hole in its lungs,

seeping cancer into the summer sky.

Aztec demigods bristling

in peacock feathers and gold,

we sacrifice our grandchildren

to a future already spent.

                        Yet we wouldn’t have it

any other way. A blue box a day

keeps the gas tank blues away.

Ghosts of healing

haunt the vanished rainforests

and we call it economy.

The Earth is bleeding

and we call it oil.

Money should be made by law

the colour of blood.

The black-and-white vision

of the chessboard

is no way to prophesy.

God is in the details

of the dirt—squirming

with earthworms on the run

from an army of bulldozers

yet we keep looking to the sky—hoping

for a messiah.

©2001, published by New Orphic Publishers 2005

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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One Response to Occupy This Poem, Part One

  1. Dom says:

    Oh Art. Fabulous. Greetings and love, from Colorado.

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