Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Poetry as Disruptive Seed, Poetry as Centering Force" -- Saturday at the Dodge Festival

The Dodge Poetry Festival is a rejuvenating experience. With words subtle and bold writers dissect the complexities of life, love, war and put it all back together in disquieting, surprising, and life-giving ways.

It is the only place one can here Arab-American poets, Palestinian poets, Israeli poets, Chilean poets, Latino/a poets, African-American poets, Asian-American poets, Jewish poets and your garden variety white American poets talking to each other about the role of poetry in every aspect of our lives.

On Saturday, October 2 I attended a panel called “Poetry as Disruptive Seed, Poetry as Centering Force” where four poets – Sharon Olds, Aharon Shabtai, Peter Coles and Cecilia Vicuna investigated the etymology of words like fear, action, hope from Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Greek.

Cecilia Vicuna showed us how poetry is a model for coming to terms with fear. She said the Latin root for fear means “to throw a hook to the bottom of the sea.” That is to dive into the unknown.

Aharon Shabtai described the Iliad as a book of yes, the good citizen going along with an irrational war and the character Docetus the first dissenting voice in poetry. He said no to the war and got whacked in the head for it.

In a spirited exchange the collected poets made it clear what it means to write poetry in a state of political threat and war. They spoke of the death of Victor Jarra in Chile and the torture of Turkish poets and how states like Israel and the US don’t really care what we write. Our poems do not threaten change. We are not going to be arrested, or deported (at least right now) for writing the kind of poems that have historically caused many poets in Central America and South America into exile, into prison, into the land of the disappeared. We are not going to be arrested, or deported (at least right now) for writing the kind of poems that result in arrest, deportation, torture and death in Burma, China, Nigeria, Turkey, many countries, many voices gone.

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I am writing this while trying to ignore the vice-presidential debate. Not because I do not care but because I don’t want the unappealing aspects of both candidates to drive me to despair.

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