Friday 20th January 2017:
This is the date when a businessman and reality TV star who has never before held public office will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. His inauguration takes place amid a media storm of controversy and speculation, violently zealous support from his fanatical followers, and a horrified wave of outspoken opposition, in a dramatic, and alarming polarisation of the people of this world-leading democracy.
The ripples of repercussion from Trump’s seemingly unlikely (according to the world’s pundits) advent to power, have ricocheted around the world, generating an uneasy anticipation of the social and political waves which, we can only assume, will get larger and more impactful as his presidency commences.
To many perhaps this begs the question of what role poets, artists and creatives play in these increasingly uncertain times…? It can be argued that the Arts play no direct function in geopolitics. However it is America’s lauded poet-son, Ezra Pound, whose thoughts on this encourage not just comment, but action:
‘Literature does not exist in a vacuum. Writers as such have a definite social function exactly proportional to their ability as writers. This is their main use.’
And the people who have felt the impact most acutely are, of course, members of the US electorate, such as poet Rachel Sampley, whose piece Where Do We Go From Here is a direct and immediate reaction to the results of the November 2016 election. In this week of Trump’s inauguration to the White House, Rachel and her fellow American writers and artists seem best placed to provide a voice to this piece of history.
As Trump takes over the presidency from Obama, the following words from American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou seem to speak more pertinently than ever to her fellow countrymen:
‘Politicians must set their aims for the high ground and according to our various leanings, Democratic, Republican, Independent, we will follow. Politicians must be told if they continue to sink into the mud of obscenity, they will proceed alone.’
Where Do We Go From Here
By Rachel Sampley
Where Do We Go From Here The sky is on fire. Red and orange clouds swirl above our heads. They draw us into the center where the last glimpse of sky used to be. Not one of us remembers the blue. While we are all stuck in the broken cracks of a place once united. I am not shocked. I have the history in my blood and we all knew what that land was capable of. I am not scared of one-man either. I am scared of the fifty-nine million people who rallied behind those ideals. How long did they hold back their hate, left it lying in wait, until they were given a chance for it to escape. Did they secretly feed it, over the years, lurk behind a blue lit screen or build it up of out of fear. People who once hid their intolerance are now given the freedom to commit acts of violence. Those people - those fifty-nine million, they are the salt in the wound that divides the Nation. For there is no comfort in kinsmen when they have willingly chained themselves to a bleak future. They’ve painted targets on those who were already not safe before. Those who now must fear for their skin, their Voice, who they love, and who they pray for. But know that passing the blame that doesn't make me any less sick with guilt and or sick with shame. What I used to believe was a place of dreams, where pristine skyscrapers became like chapels taking in our sinners, Where there was hope in what we could change. But we've baptized ourselves in butane. Now we look up into the night sky and try not to choke as we're lost in the Smoke and covered in the falling ashes of American flags. And the sky is still on fire. But after it has all settled down and we crawl our way out of the rubble, will we all look the same? Covered in the remains of the home of the brave and the free. So for now I keep speaking, because our collective voices will keep us strong. Because we are fifty-nine million and more. For where I fit in, I know my skin lets my voice be heard even if my womanhood keeps some from listening. So I will keep speaking out because stoking fires only makes them warmer and us more tired. And we will need all of our strength.
About the Poem:
I was devastated with the result of the election, and I still am. I am extremely politically outspoken. I also firmly believe that it shouldn’t be a choice whether to be “political” or not. That when it comes to shaping the future, we shouldn’t have a choice to abstain, particularly when the choices being made are detrimental to many people’s future. In that respect, politics is as woven into my life as any other aspect of my being, and I think that pushed me to tell my side of the election experience.
I should make a note here that I am from Chattanooga, Tennessee. My hometown is in a valley that rarely receives any sort of natural disasters. From the election onward though they had raging forest fires, tornados, and a really tragic elementary school bus crash. I think these seemingly unavoidable terrible things combined with the outcome of the election felt like armageddon brewing. A lot of my poetry is inspired by and includes elements of nature, so it was only natural that I would use metaphors like fire in my piece.
A part of me does feel like I am inadequate to combat this situation and so I keep trying to remember that in these times of fear and strife, it is our responsibility as artists to shape the world with what we create.
About the Poet:
Rachel Sampley is an American lighting designer working in London. She received her MA in devised theatre from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is currently a part of devised company Patch of Blue. When she is not creating theatre, she is writing poetry and reading about marine animals.