by Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Two days ago I was at a local coffee house replenishing our supply of dark roast. I placed the order and handed my empty bag to the young woman behind the counter. She handed it back to me a few minutes later; as she tapped the bag, then folded and smoothed the worn paper, we exchanged pleasantries about the afternoon’s sunny weather which was at that very moment shifting to storm.
Flood warning, I said. She hadn’t heard or read any news that day and, by way of explanation, fixed me with a worn look as she shrugged: ‘There’s just too much bad news out there right now,’ she said.
Like so many of us I had spent much of the day reading the changing headlines and the stories attached: the crises in the Middle East, more Afghanistan, and the devastation in Japan. Mostly I had focused on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, on the reactors’ failure, the possible plume of radiation that sent so many folks in my hometown of Sacramento on a search for iodine pills that they exhausted the city’s supply.
Japan is close to home for us; we have a large Japanese community in our city and we too live in earthquake country. We also have three defunct nuclear reactors nearby, which, when operative, developed a series of problems now considered to be the third-most significant nuclear safety occurrence in the U.S. [Wikipedia] The plant, which opened in 1977, was shut down after a decisive vote in a 1989 special referendum. A poet here, Martha Ann Blackman, had a lot to do with Rancho Seco’s closure. (She has a poem about the process called ‘It Only Took Ten Years’ in her recent chapbook from Rattlesnake Press, The Leaves on the Caring Tree.) Here is an excerpt from her bio on Medusa’s Kitchen http://medusaskitchen.blogspot:
[Blackman] was a spokesperson for Sacramentans for SAFE Energy (SAFE), the local grass-roots group that qualified the initiative for a public vote on shutting down the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant — the only nuclear power plant in the world that’s been shut down in this way. Martha says, ‘This is especially relevant because it was a poem I wrote that caused me to get involved in the ten years I spent trying to get the nuke shut down.’
Here is a case for how both a poet and a poem can and did change the world.