March 21, 2022 by The Citron Review
German philosopher and critical theorist Theodor W. Adorno wrote: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” It’s oft-quoted, misquoted, embraced, and disputed. It comes up during times of conflict and loss, frequently in the wake of violent events. After the September 11 attacks in the US, Adorno’s quote expanded. The creator of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels asked, “Can we be funny?”
Even now, with a war designed to crush the Ukrainian people’s will to exist, art doesn’t stop. It mustn’t stop. Art is life is culture is expression is freedom. Not only does this art give witness to outrage, to pain, to triumph, to hope, but it is also necessary.
We must laugh. We must write poetry. We must express who we are and celebrate our cultures and identities. Powerful regimes will always reject freedom of expression. Especially when they believe it will keep them in power.
What’s truly barbaric is to eliminate voices, to silence cultures, to give up on the arts and poetry which may at times make us uncomfortable. Expression of personal truths must find spaces so that identities which may live outside the majority are not persecuted.
In the United States there are state bills seeking to silence people’s right to be in the LGBTQIA+ community. There is proposed legislation that seeks to eliminate school discussions which could cause feelings of discomfort or guilt regarding historical inequities and denial of human rights. Librarians are being threatened with jail time for “disseminating harmful materials.” The erosion of voting rights is on the horizon.
Now, one Russian dictator with unfathomable wealth and power sends his countrymen to die and to kill in Ukraine. Ukrainian cities are destroyed and people continue to flee their homes. When a theater in Mariupol is bombed, its impact is two-fold. First, the theater was sheltering civilians, so it is an act of terrorism. In addition, this violence seeks to silence culture. The Ukrainian people continue to fight for their right to exist.
Whether it comes from a violent invasion abroad or from fear baked into legislation here in the United States, we are watching active forms of silencing that will have long-lasting repercussions. We should not weigh one against the other, but rather we need to deal with both. In our art and in our daily life, we cannot afford to live with an either/or mindset. The arts make space for discomfort, fantasy, poetry, joy to coexist. They also allow safe spaces for voices outside a dominant culture.
Because we have a free press, we are seeing violent war crimes in Ukraine. We must also clearly see that denying a person’s culture is a violation of human rights. In The Citron Review, our micros are making space for diverse voices in surprising ways: Two line poems. Stories of family. Fairy tales. Poetic memoirs. Oftentimes an expression of a single moment represents something much larger, more aching. The pieces might take up little physical space, but they spread their wings beyond the margins and beyond the screen. These micros seek your heart and mind. There is no either/or. We’re a place for both and with room for more. In our Micros section, we are not an escape from reality; rather, we represent the multiplicity of life in little starbursts. These starbursts are a wondrous constellation. I encourage all of our readers to continue making art in the face of violence and to seek out art in way to show our hearts and minds are both with the Ukrainian people and with all humans seeking their right to exist.
The Citron Review