We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Denise Levertov: audience hypocrisy · 7 May 06

Dear Anne,

I came across the following poem on the Net in a format very hard to disseminate. So I thought I’d type it out for you so others can read it here, and, if they wish to share or use it elsewhere, copy, paste, and send it on with ease:

The day the audience walked out on me and why

                (May 8th, 1970, Goucher College, Maryland)

Like this it happened:
after the antiphonal reading of the psalms,
and dance of lamentation before the altar,
and the two poems, Life at War and What They Were Like,
I began my rap,
and said:

Yes, it is well that we have gathered
in this chapel to remember
the students shot at Kent State,

but let us be sure and know
our gathering is a mockery unless
we remember also
the black students shot at Orangeburg two years ago,
and Fred Hampton murdered in his bed
by the police only months ago.

And while I spoke the people—girls, older women, a few men
began to rise and turn
their backs to the altar and leave.

And I went on and said,
Yes, it is well that we remeber
all of these, but let us be sure
we know it is hypocrisy
to think of them unless
we make our actions their memorial,
actions of militant resistance.

By then the pews were almost empty
and I returned to my seat and a man stood
in the back of the quiet chapel
(near the wide-open doors through which
the green of May showed, and the long shadows
        of late afternoon)
and said my words
desecrated a holy place.

And a few days later
when some more student (black) were shot
at Jackson, Mississippi,
no one descrecrated the white folks’ chapel,
because no memorial service was held

                Denise Levertov


Posted by: Ellen

* * *


commenting closed for this article