If the recent presidential election showed us anything, it revealed the power of words. The language used by the candidates and their surrogates often overwhelmed the candidates’ themselves.
Hillary Clinton’s opponents pounded her when she said Donald Trump’s supporters could be put in “a basket of deplorables.” And Trump’s opponents hammered him for his characterization of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.
But what if the hyper language surrounding contentious issues could be altered, peeling back the jarring words and replaced with language more contemplative, insightful which could prompt better thinking, rather than knee-jerk reactions. And what if the words came in the form of poetry that could create more space for discussion in our daily circles and diversity of voices.
For nearly two dozen national literary organizations, including the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the notion of using poetry to address a national topic was worth considering.
Next March the national Poetry Coalition will present “Because We Come From Everything: Poetry & Migration,” in venues across the country. Tucson’s portion will take stage at next year’s Tucson Festival of Books, March 11 and 12 at the University of Arizona. The title is taken from a poem, “Border Bus” by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, who is scheduled to appear at the spring event as part of the coalition’s project.
While migration is not a new issue in the American discourse, “the topic has critical urgency,” said Tyler Meier, executive director of the UA Poetry Center.
The theme is “timely and relevant,” said Jennifer Benka, executive director of the American Academy of Poets in New York City and one of the participating nonprofit groups.
Some of the other poetry participants include the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers/National Student Poets Program, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, CantoMundo and Letras Latinas, Cave Canem, Letras Latinas at Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, Mass Poetry, the Poetry Foundation and the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University.
This collaborative effort has been in the making for about a year, Meier said. Last month representatives of 20 groups met in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to review the plan and set its launch, with support from the Lannan Foundation, a cultural and literary organization based in Santa Fe.
Some people may dismiss poetry as a lost art, but it isn’t.
We hear it and use it in our daily lives. We listen to music. We read it on some of our friends’ social media pages. At weddings, funerals and other celebrations, poetry is used to celebrate or soothe our lives. Poetry is not meant to be left in books on a shelf.
Benka said next year’s poetry events will make the art form more visible for playing an inspirational and important role in our lives. The collaboration is intended to counter the perspective that poetry isn’t alive and well, she added.
“We want to promote the value of poets and poetry in our communities,” Benka said.
One of the beauties of poetry is that it conveys and reflects a myriad of emotions, said Meier. For listeners and readers, everyone comes away with a different interpretation of a poem.
Another advantage of poetry is that “it travels well,” Meier said. Unlike an orchestra or a staged play, not much space is needed to recite and listen to poetry.
“Poetry is a feasible art form,” he said.
The Santa Fe meeting marks a milestone for the poetry organizations to unite and focus on a single mission, said Meier and Benka. The groups knew one another informally but had not banded together previously, they said.
If next year’s presentations are successful, the groups intend to continue with future joint projects.
Meier said, “We want to make poetry more accessible and connected to our daily lives.”