Warrior Poets Society
Who And What Is Our Society?
By Dennis Fritzinger
The name “Warrior Poets Society” was supposed to convey Dave Foreman’s idea that Earth First! was a warrior society and we are Earth First!ers and also poets. What this meant at the time, and not just to me, was that we were biocentrist poets, with an Earth First! edge (energy) and coyote humor.
We weren’t to be taken completely seriously because humor was part of our magic and the ability to laugh at ourselves and each other was sorely necessary.
We didn’t want to become rigid like marxists, stalinists, conservative republicans or other fundamentalists. We hoped to remain playful and high-spirited, not endlessly concerned with points of theory (even while we were not against expending intellectual energy to follow theoretical arguments). Our praxis would set the finer points of our philosophy.
All of this is still true, and applies to us today. In addition, we recognize that we are not alone in our concerns–many other poets, past and present, have had them too. I try to identify who they might be by reading widely as well as deeply. Though not a recognized strain in poetry (at least yet), it’s definitely there–you only have to know what the threads look like in order to pick them up.
In poetry’s immense waterfall (that I hope never goes dry) there are comets and streamers we call ‘warrior poetry’. The fall would be far less rich without them.
There’s two kinds of EF! poets: Contributors and Performers. Performers are the rarer kind, and could rightly be called Performance Poets. They are (or were) Slugthang (Andrew Rodman), Matthew Haun, and Gnome.
Then there’s the Contributors, poets who regularly send in poems to the Journal (or Warrior Poets Society).
There’s also the one-time contributors, who give a little to the Journal but then stop–either they step aside for other voices, decide they don’t share our vision, or simply don’t write more.
Maybe their vision of what a poet is doesn’t include activist. Or maybe they see the Journal as reaching too small an audience for their brand of activism.
There is no surer road to activist ‘burnout’ than mouthing propaganda in phrases false to one’s conscience. In literary terms, this means never writing or speaking below one’s own standard of taste and culture. John Gardner, the novelist and teacher of writing, cut through the problem of imagining one’s audience by saying simply:
“One writes for people like oneself”–even if one doesn’t know any such people. Indeed, this is the only course that avoids the dishonesty of writing or talking “down” to others.”
Deep Ecology, the philosophy that empowers Earth First!ers to sit in trees and block bulldozers, draws on science (ecology) and philosophy (questioning) to create an ethos of action, whether direct (above ground) or covert (monkeywrenching).
Like Gandhi, Thoreau and Buddhism it incorporates nonviolence or do-least-harm into its outlook. (Nonviolence is not, strictly speaking, the same as passive or unviolent. And do-least-harm could be a description of Earth First!-style (rather than, say, Alf-style) monkeywrenching.)
As one who believes speech was the first human technology, I recognize the power of words for good or for ill. To some extent, those who wield words well have power equal to those who attained it by traditional methods like clubbing their way up the ladder.
Thus poets are a force to be reckoned with.
Date: July 4, 2011