Immunity by Debbie Calverley



                                   That night the Poets declared 
                                   we were no longer free to dream;
                                   I dreamt of you 

                                   even though I knew
                                   I would die for it.

                                   Debbie Calverley

                                                            *      *     *     *     *     *     *        *
                                               Critique by Carol Lynn Grellas & J.S. MacLean

I love this short but poignant poem for several reasons, and irony is certainly on the top of the list. I think the title, “Immunity,” is doing its work by setting the reader up for the experience of unraveling the poem’s meaning. By the end we are completely taken aback with that surprising last line or bombshell of an ending. The poem comes full circle, bringing us right back to the matter of exception.

The ‘we’ in the poem or the ‘narrator’, is willing to die for what she believes in, despite the crime she’s committing by doing so; in this case, dreaming of ‘you’ and the willingness to sacrifice her life for her own principles. The statement itself becomes poetically beautiful for its profound defiance. The speaker surpasses the very Poets with a capital ‘P’ who have deemed her dreams forbidden. 
I could mention the romantic quality of the poem but it’s almost too unbearable to take literally, yet going back to days of Aristotle, when poets were viewed as philosophers, seers and prophets, it becomes unthinkable that the very group who have been the visionaries or dreamers from generation to generation would put a ban on dreaming. The narrator, even if she doesn’t see herself as one, is certainly the most glorious of poets with a capital ‘P’, placing her artistry above anything else, refusing to be muzzled by laws or rules, forging ahead in the name of truth, and thank god for that.
Short poems are generally well liked by average readers but are still, perhaps, not taken seriously, at times. The exclusive cliques among the brief set are well established. This poem is compact with simple language and uses some traditional elements such as night, dreams, death, and love. The only twist seems like science fiction. Although it is not the same situation, I immediately thought of Vonnegut’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, which is about a future world where the talented were given suitable handicaps to diminish their talent in order to make all people equal. In this poem we have those unsuspected of oppression, the poets, who have declared that dreaming is their exclusive right. Seemingly far fetched, or is it? Human history is riddled with those who have, forbidding others to have. Property, weapons, status, suffrage, and freedom have all been refused to others by those who do possess them. Society also has guilds, unions, priesthoods, bar exams, etc., all of which exclude others from partaking in certain activities. So here the poets, the dreamers, hope to control that activity over which they claim ownership. This is provocative; an idea with punch.
Could poets be so tyrannical? Poetry is not what one would call a participative activity. Whereas all little kids color pictures and are encouraged to participate in most activities and sports, poetry seems to be something that only poets do. Poets are special. One could even argue that this exclusivity is enforced. The poetry world has many of the same trappings of conformity, politics, and judgment that it may criticize in other milieus but not readily admit to, preferring a reputation of artistry and freedom.
Do many poets consider themselves rebels? There almost seems a prerequisite of studying and reading what they are to rebel against. Perhaps the true rebels do not rebel but instead simply let themselves be. Maybe it is a truly secret initiation into this guild; we must dare to dream and practice self-sacrifice before we enter…simply by being. This poem was almost written by a non-poet, but it wasn’t.

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