There is actually a long book of poetry by Ernesto Cardenal, who was born in Nicaragua, and was also priest and prolific culture-creator in the Sandinista revolution of the 70s and 80s, which is called Canto Cósmico. Cardenal founded a community called Solentanime, where the (poor, many at first illiterate) peasants (or the less diminishing term, campesinos) participated in poetry workshops while furthering the socialist agenda. When I volunteered in Nicaragua, we worked in a community of coffee growers that had their own cooperative, which was created (sponsored by the government) during that time. Their small village deep in the mountains of Matagalpa was called La Estrella.
As you may know, Daniel Ortega, who led that revolution, is now a petty dictator and the country continues to suffer extreme poverty and corruption; so that particular movement didn’t fully work out. But there were many gains made during those years, worthwhile experiments in creating a “New Man, and New Woman.” (You used these terms, John, in a recent talk about The Wholeness of Nature—and I was silently reminded of the context where I heard the phrase before, in mostly-forgotten history, where there were concrete actions taken to birth a new human possibility on the level of a nation. Unfortunately, those efforts were largely thwarted (although also impelled) by US imperialism.
But I am convinced they were not in vain. Simply by traveling through different countries where revolutionary movements were and were not at least partially successful, I can report that the qualities of the cultures were significantly different. I found a substantially enhanced sense of self, agency, radiance, and freedom of expression where a revolutionary spirit was still alive. I am not saying I agreed ideologically with everyone I met—but where capitalism is confronted with a humane alternative rooted in social solidarity, the people are prouder, more flexible and expressive, and more beautiful-minded, I have found.
I have also studied deeply the diseases of ideology, and I am aware that any ideal, value, or truth a community posits—any language formulations that become official and required—easily becomes a source of fearful conformity and subtle if not overt oppression.
And yet…one must say something. One must do something. As poets, scientists, artists, dreamers—we can be uniquely sensitive to the plasticity of language, the provisionality of truth. Of course, one might do nothing, one can be silent, but this leads nowhere other than where one was already going. The point is to change the world: replace dictators with democracy, cannibalism with compassion, pollution with poetry, poverty with philosophy.
And time… we have all of in the world, and yet we are perpetually running out. And there are different types of silence: the deadly silence of complicity and denial, the silence of paralysis and fear; the silence of absorption in listening and contemplation; the silence of not knowing what to do or say, yet not squandering oneself doing and saying meaningless things; the silence of adoration and nonverbal intuitive feeling…
And simplicity… impelling complexity, not being impaled on complications. This feels like a creative process. Where are we going with this? Movement is not the same as structure, and yet cannot happen without orientation in space. And I cannot perceive both sides of the Necker Cube—the seedling and the flame—at the same time; yet oscillating in time I remember that I can see them both, and there is a mental flow. My mind can dance—front, back, high, low, inside, outside, sacred, and profane.
And now I’m doing the cha-cha. And now I can say, like they say down under: ta-ta…