Can a Poem Ever Retire?

Poetry is NecessaryLast week, I had the honor of seeing Andrea Gibson perform. Their poetry, of course, was heart-wrenching, humorous, and inspiring, precisely what audiences can expect from Andrea Gibson. We expect to laugh, yearn, cry, dream, and feel things we haven’t felt in a long time. But there was one moment in their performance that struck me and a friend I was with as a little off.

“So marriage is legal,” they said after taking a deep breath. For those who do not know. Andrea Gibson has a spectacular poem, “I Do,” largely about marriage equality. After the Supreme Court declared that marriage equality is the law of the land, Andrea discussed their attitude toward this poem, one they’ve performed for so long. They wondered aloud it it was time to retire “I Do,” if it was relevant anymore. A poem about marriage equality in a country that now no longer forbids it may understandably seem outdated. Perhaps it might distract from other important issues, such as workplace discrimination, violence against the queer community, violence against people of color.

But can poetry ever retire? Poetry s immortal. Poetry is life. I wanted to hear Andrea perform “I Do,” and I do not think it can or ever should retire. The issue is still relevant in countries where marriage equality is illegal; it is still part of a canon of poetry about a network of interrelated issues that do not simply end with one legal decision; just as importantly, it’s a beautiful poem, and the world needs as much beautiful poetry as it can get.

Andrea Gibson’s poetry, as all poetry should, will continue to be a tool for activism. But poems can never retire because poetry is our salvation, our justification for our continued existence in a dim world, our birthright, our only way of spitting in death’s eye. We still read poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, because it’s our last connection to anything divine, or the sum of all facts, or the collective unconscious, or the manifestation of love. Call it what you will, the Holy Spirit or hope, but poetry is its language. If and when I get to see Andrea Gibson on stage again, I hope they revive “I Do,” and I hope they deliver some of their new poetry as well as their classics, because all poetry is necessary, forever and always.


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