Writing that shocks, antagonises, bears witness to or imagines violence can create radical empathy. ‘At least touch what you kill’ writes Julián Herbert in ‘Dark’, his speaker telling of a night spent with his arm in the crack between two beds trying to prevent his young son from falling to the floor….
In this way poetry can, I think, create empathy – however incomplete, however nonintentional on the writers part.
But it can also critique the structures in which violence is allowed to be repeated. We have to do this until we don’t. The snippet hints at both a belief and disbelief in this mission – a compromised empathy, because perhaps all empathy is flawed. And a confusion over who is doing the violence. To be sure, the radical empathy of poetry and all art is needed alongside inhuman and staggering statistics if we are to stop the violence that comes in patterns, one skull after another.
So I hope this is an issue about empathy as much as it is about violence.
image: Orpheus, the greatest poet of Classical