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I noticed Quintan Wikswo’s post today. Wikswo is a fiction contributor for Issue 12 of Drunken Boat, and I watch her politically conscientious and relevant posts and blog entries with great interest. This particular link was shared on Facebook, an article from The Huffington Post, “The Crime of the Century: What BP and the US Government Don’t Want You to Know, Part I.”

Reading this article reminded me of a conversation I had during my week at the Port Townsend Writer’s Workshop in July, as writer in residence and afternoon faculty.

I had asked workshop attendees to consider what’s at stake with two different ways in which a scene might be rendered. The first way would be for the writer to describe a meeting of BP executives, about the oil disaster, as tense or angry or unjust. The second would be to concretize such emotions or abstract concepts by way of a president talking about the importance of paying for the cleanup. The CEO quickly runs from the room and barely makes it to the bathroom to get violently ill. Whether or not this is an example of schadenfreude is not the point. (The point here was to distinguish how much of a difference you can make in prose or poetry by way of concretizing the abstract.)

But the example I used prompted one man to talk with me afterwards. He ran fishing plants in Alaska and told me his business had been decimated by the Valdez ‘spill.’ He spoke of the Native Americans who went away because their livelihood had been poisoned. And he went on to explain he, along with many of the area’s residents, was part of a 19-year trial against Exxon. I’m sure it won’t be hugely surprising to read this: Exxon won the trial that finally ended last year.

The BP disaster, and Valdez, are symptomatic of a broader problem. We have effectively created a system where corporate lobbyists are working for the industries that employ them—as regulators of those very industries.

Beyond reading, keeping yourself informed and bombarding your senators and representatives with phone calls and letters, what can we do? Reading the Jerry Cope and Charles Hambleton article made me sick to my stomach. Selfishly, I am writing at this very moment because I needed a way to channel the grief.

Engaging community through your writing, provides ways to challenge dominant ways of seeing (and being) in this country, as I have elaborated in my statement on the Poets for Living Waters site. But more than that, writing witnesses—for this generation and the generations to come—our histories, stories and lives. Writing is neither the dead letter office nor its sweetheart the Oxford Vault. Literature allows us to complicate and expand our perspectives. At some point perhaps it will even help us learn from past mistakes.

Deborah Marie Poe
fiction editor, Drunken Boat

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Published Aug 07, 2010 - Comments Off

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