Today is World Ocean Day. Proposed and observed since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and designated in 2009 by the United Nations to celebrate the ocean. But given the disaster currently expanding into the Gulf of Mexico, it is hard to find celebratory words.
I spent last week presenting at a conference of poets and storytellers convened by Robert Bly in Maine. Sometimes we are called to show up for events without really knowing why; and then as the event unfolds it becomes clear.
In this case the first day of the conference coincided with the failure of the BP “Top Kill” strategy to stem the flow of oil into the Sea. From this it appears as though the earliest that the eruption can be stopped will be in August.
It became apparent that I was at the conference to convey the unimaginable magnitude of the Gulf disaster to the poets – who are uniquely equipped to translate the unimaginable into imaginal terms that non-poets can grasp.
Through this I understood why earlier civilizations considered the poets as one of the pillars of society: They help us frame the larger consequences of our enterprise. In many instances all that is left of these historic civilizations is their poetry.
We are now looking at sending a delegation of poets to the Gulf – along with Prince William Sound fishermen who became victims of the Exxon Valdez spill 20 years ago.
This delegation could help frame the Gulf disaster in terms that will help fishing families and communities figure out what to do at the dead end of their careers, and help oil workers deal with the anger and shame – theirs, and what is directed toward them for the biblical-scale disruption of their communities.
It is hard to know why we were all asked to show up now, in these times. Perhaps the invitation will become clear as we understand the need to change our relationship to the Sea.
What better day to consider this than World Ocean Day?