Saturday, August 16, 2003

Alice Derry

If there is one thing you can say about the experience of civilization and being human, there is no shortage of trouble.

Sometimes it seems as if the collective recognition of history is only a generalized distillation of banal and often inaccurate information about what has gone on in different times and places for the purpose of boring high school students or providing demagogues, politicians and pundits with enough information to skew facts sufficiently so they may sway us to applaud or vote for them. Afterwards, we the people are often left scratching our heads, if indeed, we are lucky enough to still have one, and ask ourselves what the hell just happened. Often this generalizing influence leads us to smug conclusions and arbitrary bias that are more revealing about our own self-protecting insecurities than they are accurate about the cause and effect of history.

Thus, we concoct notions that Blacks and Native Americans are inferior, the indigent bring poverty upon themselves, various Supreme Beings have various Chosen People, arbitrary lines drawn on a map dictate the character of those living within them, terrorists attacked World Trade Center Towers because they hate freedom, and the United States holds the moral high ground in the arena of world politics. On the strength of these poorly constructed ideas we condemn ourselves to repeat the worst moments of history. It is only through the ex

All of Alice Derry's work is an intensely personal look at individual lives. From her initial manuscript, Stages of Twilight, through chapbooks Getting Used to the Body and Not as You Once Imagined, and a second book, Clearwater, she chronicles the lives and truths of ordinary people, including her own. But it is in her seminal third volume, Strangers to Their Courage, that Derry unsparingly uses the crucible of poetry to dispel the myths and generalizing of history surrounding postwar Germany.amination of the lives of individuals may we divine the truth of a moment or an era.

In the words of reviewer Li-Young Lee: "This book asks us to surrender our simplistic ideas about race and prejudice, memory and forgetfulness, and to begin to uncover a new paradigm for 'human.'

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