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Poetry Demonstrates Its Power

Susan C. Lamont  |  Issue: February | March 2013
Photo: Florentino Valdés Martínez
Photo from the series SUSURROS POÉTICOS (Poetic Whispers) EN EL TIANGUIS DEL CHOPO 2012-100 mil poetas por el cambio (100 thousand poets for change).

The Movement 100 Thousand Poets for Change Stays Vibrantly Alive

The global movement of cultural activists calling themselves 100 Thousand Poets for Change is not waiting for its annual weekend of events in September. Instead, it is vibrantly alive from California to India.

Does poetry have power? Can it be a a voice for justice? A threat to the powers that be?

Women in Afghanistan cannot openly take part in 100 Thousand Poets for Change; reading and writing poetry can get a woman killed there. In Qatar, a poet has recently been given a life sentence for writing a rebellious line of poetry.

And if you think that’s extreme, under the National Defense Authorization Act recently signed by President Obama, a poem can be declared treasonous in the United States, too.

Indeed, in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, Laura Bush canceled a White House poetry reading, fearing that it could turn embarrassing. “It would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum,” her spokeswoman explained.

Tell that to the thousands of poets, dancers, musicians, mimes, photographers, and other artists who have taken part in the two big annual 100 Thousand Poets for Change events held in more than 100 countries, including Mexico and other parts of Latin America.

What Laura Bush was afraid of is just what Terri Carrion and Michael Rothenberg, the two poets from a tiny California town who sparked the movement, hoped would happen: that poets would not be silent in the face of war, environmental degradation, inequality, and exploitation.

In a global society that so desperately wants us to believe in this war, that politician, this border, poets are framing questions with bigger and more generous imaginations than any country’s leaders.

Because 100 Thousand Poets for Change is organized on a local level, yet has online connections to a global community, poets responding to issues in their own neighborhoods can get support from around the world.

Last October, for instance, poetry, film, and music fundraisers were held in a number of countries to call attention to the plight of the people of the Niger Delta, where flooding caused massive suffering—and international relief was almost nonexistent.

More recently, 100 TPC has linked up with rootsaction.org and its 200,000 members in a petition campaign demanding the release of Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami, the Qatari poet imprisoned for a poem extolling the popular uprisings in Tunisia. (Google: rootsaction al ajami to sign the petition.)

In support of Al Ajami, the Revolutionary Poets Brigade will hold a reading on February 6 in Los Angeles titled “Poetry Is Not a Crime.”

In India, as people rise up against their country’s rape culture, the poets of Mumbai held a 100 Thousand Poets for Change reading on January 11 titled “Voices Against Violence.”

And for the second year, 100 TPC will be working with Dominican Republic-based Fundadora Mujeres Poetas Internacional (Women Poets International) on their Woman’ Scream readings in March and April. (“Speaking against violence is not enough. Sometimes screaming is necessary.”)

In Sonoma Co., Calif., 100 TPC is dedicating an April 5-7 festival to inspiring a sustainable and collaborative way of life. It is bringing together various styles, cultures, and generations through the energy of artist activists, including, for instance, the local Mexican band De Colores.

The third annual 100 Thousand Poets for Change international event will take place on Saturday, September 28, 2013. Friend them on Facebook (100 Thousand Poets for Change Official) or check the website at www.100tpc.org

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