RESIST, REIMAGINE and REFORM: 100,000 Poets for Change honor the Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and address gun control; PEN World explores pathways through turmoil

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”  Jiddu Krishnamurti

USING OUR WORDS: Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion, cofounders of 100,000 Poets for Change, are wonderful at finding ways for us gather online and off and to use our words to raise awareness of justice issues, encourage one another, make connections with like-minded, become a force for positive change, and show those in turmoil that we are present.

Michael announced today ..

“So far Coconut Creek, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Tallahassee have scheduled 100 Thousand Poets for Change associated readings as tribute to the students murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. These readings will be held in March and address the topic of gun control. We are waiting for confirmation for Pensacola, St. Petersburg and Gainesville and welcome additional organizers in Florida and around the country who wish to participate in this initiative.”

Look for events near you or publish your event info on 100,000 Poets for Change Communication Hub.  You are also welcome to post events on The BeZine 100,000 Poets for Change, 2018 Discussion Page and A World with Peace, A Place to Lament and Resist Gun Violence.

PEN America presents the 2018 PEN World Voices Festival: Resist and Reimagine, this year’s incarnation of the renowned international literary festival, which will bring together the world’s foremost authors and other luminaries at a time when many are turning to literature and the arts not for escapism, but as a guide to navigate contemporary crises.

Salman Rushdie founded the festival in the isolationist aftermath of September 11, 2001, to fortify links with the rest of the world; now again the need to connect and draw inspiration from beyond America’s borders is pressing.

PEN America Festival Director Chip Rolley explains, “For the first time in its history, we are deliberately training the Festival’s wide lens on America itself, probing the fissures and inconsistencies in our own culture, alongside those of writers visiting from overseas. We will examine different kinds of resistance—the internal and the external, the political and the personal—and tap into the imagination that is at the core of the best fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, joining together in a week that reaffirms our faith in the power of the word to transform our society, our politics, and our daily lives.”

The Festival will unfold across sixty-plus events in dozens of venues in four of the five New York City boroughs, April 16-22. It kicks off on April 16 with Resist and Reimagine: Opening Night in Three Acts. Colson Whitehead will speak about applying one’s imagination to elucidate historical truths, as the novelist did for his “carefully built and stunningly daring” (The New York Times), Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad.

Novelist Leila Slimani—a Muslim immigrant from Morocco to France whose novel The Perfect Nanny won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt—will speak with New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnikabout how worlds can be reimagined by bending the lenses of ethnicity and geography.

Australian performance poet and author Maxine Beneba Clarke will read from “A Letter from Manus Island: A Refugee Resistance Manifesto,” by Behrouz Boochani, the Iranian Kurdish poet and journalist who has been held for over four years in Australia’s detention center on Manus Island while awaiting asylum. Boochani writes here about how “the refugees were able to reimagine themselves in the face of the detention regime.”

In a separate opening night event, Dave Eggers will talk with Mokhtar Alkhanshali, the Yemeni-American historian, community organizer, and coffee innovator whose aim to revitalize Yemen’s coffee industry through worker empowerment is the subject of Eggers’ latest book, The Monk of Mokha.

The resistance embodied in the disclosures of the #MeToo movement has inspired a number of events in this year’s festival, which extend the examination of gender and power begun in the 2017 festival. On April 20, critically acclaimed, best-selling author Roxane Gay will speak with #AMtoDM co-host and BuzzFeed Books founding editor Isaac Fitzgerald on the intersecting subjects her writing famously tackles. Zeroing in on the ongoing fight for female autonomy, Handmaid in America (April 21) will bring together a group of women writers, including Siri Hustvedt and Leni Zumas, who will discuss literature and its responses to encroachments on women’s reproductive rights. On April 17, Us Too, a powerful program of poetry, readings and conversation about violence against women will include Tishani Doshi, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Dunya Mikhail, and Mona Eltahawy. These open conversations on the traumas the female body endures strive to liberate women during this movement of reckoning.

With The M Word: Hasan Minhaj and Wajahat Ali (April 22), comedian and Daily Show senior correspondent Minhaj and writer/lawyer Ali will speak about the varieties of Muslim American experiences, the pressures of being public ambassadors for a vastly multifaceted group that America just as vastly generalizes, and how comedy and creativity have changed under Trump. The M Word: No Country for Young Muslim Women (April 18) will see Sudanese-Australian author/mechanical engineer Yassmin Abdel-Magied and MuslimGirl founder Amani Al Khatahtbeh—both of whom left their home countries, Australia and America, respectively, due to harassment and vilification—discussing the complexities of being Muslim and female in Western countries. Abdel-Magied will also speak with Sick author Porochista Khakpour, and Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist media critic who endured a barrage of #GamerGate harassment and death threats in Take Back the Net: Fighting Online Hate (April 21). Looking into the real-world impact of virtual bullying, those who have refused to be silenced will discuss productive means for resisting and reimagining the Internet as a free and fearless space.

Addressing authorship and cultural alienation, Cry, the Beloved Country (April 19) will unite Ryszard Krynicki, Serhiy Zhadan, Marcos Aguinis, Domenico Starnone, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Hwang Sok-yong, Basma Abdel Aziz, and Negar Djavadi to articulate the particular rage of oppressed populations in their home countries. Meditations on Exile (April 20) will feature Chinese novelist Xiaolu Guo, Iraqi-Assyrian poet Dunya Mikhail, and Iranian screenwriter/novelist Hossein M. Abkenar. They will discuss their experiences of having fled their home countries to avoid censorship and the potentially severe repercussions of their self-expression, and how these experiences have shaped the way they write about place. The Trick of Translation (April 21), will speak to a more formal means of border transcendence—the attempt to capture the spirit of a work in another language. Jhumpa Lahiri will talk with Domenico Starnone about Starnone’s novels Trick and Ties, translated from Italian to English by Lahiri.

The chronicled lessons from the past can act as living guides, particularly as threats to key rights swell. Taking a moment to look back to America’s most fearless activists and writers, Jelani Cobb, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Gregory Pardlo mark the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Where Do We Go from Here? (April 20), which asks, with hope at its core, the titular question of Dr. King’s last book. Looking further back in history, biographer Ron Chernow talks to MSNBC host and author Chris Hayes about Ulysses S. Grant, one of our most underappreciated presidents, who worked for justice and the political enfranchisement for African Americans. Exploring what should be inalienable rights, Mother Jones reporter Ari Bermanand historian Carol Anderson will delve into racialized voter suppression in Killing Democracy (April 19). One of the festival’s central aims is to defend and provide a platform for open discourse; Masha Gessen, Patrisse Cullors, and PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel will shed light on first amendment tensions in America today in Resistance Report Card: Grading the Groundswell(April 21).

In Legacy of an LGBTQ Countercultural Icon (April 21), translators Bonnie Huieand Ari Larissa Heinrich and poet Eileen Myles will examine the work of the late Qiu Miaojin, whose cinematically experimental novels dauntlessly depict lesbian life in Taiwan long before any form of queerness was socially accepted. While she was writing up through the 90s, to this day, globally queer communities remain vulnerable.

As so much of what literature explores politically and personally is inherently connected to place, several events will probe location’s distinct impact on personhood. The city of New York has functioned as an iconic and figurative setting across myriad art forms: in New York Stories (April 21), Salman Rushdie,Sergio De La Pava, and others will talk about encapsulating the city in fiction. With a more panoramic gaze, in America, Real and Imagined (April 22), authors from different corners of the country will discuss their shared interest in the American landscape’s profound ability to shape identity. Francisco Cantú—a former-border-patrol-agent-turned-author—will join acclaimed Sunshine Stateauthor Sarah Gerard and poet/author Joy Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Nation whose memoir Crazy Brave won the 2013 PEN Center USA prize for creative nonfiction. Cantú, who wrote the “sharply political and deeply personal” (New York Magazine) The Line Becomes a River, will also look into a particularly fraught section of the American landscape, the Mexican-United States border in Borders of Our Imagination, where he will speak with novelist and essayist Valeria Luiselli and playwright and DREAMer Amalia Rojas (April 20).

Young people are just as likely as adults to be curious about the often puzzling, sometimes troubling, world around them, and there is a growing body of books and other publications that cater to this curiosity. For the first time in its history, the festival will feature a day of storytelling, interactive events, comics and freestyle poetry workshops for children, tweens, and young adults as part of its new Next Generation Now series curated by Meg Lemke of MUTHA Magazine. Little Activists: A Workshop and Mini-March (April 21) will encourage children to express their own ideas of democracy, equality, and freedom, and learn how to translate their thoughts into political engagement. Leila Sales, who will lead he workshop, created The Little Book of Little Activists after being inspired by children in the Women’s March. R.J. Palacio, author of the best-settling novel Wonder (recently adapted as a live-action film with Jacob Tremble in the leading role) will speak on the importance of acceptance, and the pivotal lessons that literature can teach us from a young age. Tony Medina, Ilyasah Shabazz, and Toni Blackman are also among the featured Next Generation Now authors.

PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel says, “While the present political moment in the United State feels unprecedented and unparalleled, when we turn toward the rest of the world the tide of revanchism we are enduring is neither new nor confined to our own borders. International writers and thinkers offer a well of lessons and insights on how to thwart and protest, to sustain and nurture resistance, to shore up threatened values, and to look beyond the present impasse. PEN America has always worked as a bridge across cultures and geographies, forging relationships and solidarity that are a counterweight against hatreds and polarization. In the digital age, with so much of our discourse reduced to tweets and sound bites, face-to-face conversation across cultures about how to realize a different collective future is essential. If frayed relationships between the world’s governments are ever to be repaired, it will be because we nurtured relationships, empathy, and understanding among peoples—that’s what the PEN World Voices Festival does.”

Peter Barbey, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Village Voice, which co-sponsors the 2018 PEN World Voices Festival, says, “This year’s theme, Resist and Reimagine, couldn’t be more timely or topical.  It resonates here at The Village Voice since those very same principles have been reflected in our mission since our inception in 1955, at the beginning of an American cultural revolution. As Official Media Sponsor of the Pen World Voices Festival, we call on all New Yorkers to join the conversation.”


Wednesday Writing Prompts to Return on March 21; Meanwhile, Introducing Deborah Alma, Emergency Poet; “Ramingo’s Porch” and Poetry Radio

The Spirit of the House, Still Life with Cat by German Expressionist Painter, August Macke (1887-1914)

The Spirit of the House

from the painting by August Macke 1910

A smug cat, a cosy cat, a passing cat,
a blue striped jug, with the light catching

the glaze, its dazzle closes the eyes
of the cat -it is a jug of cream.

A scented geranium, red and jaunty
in a terracotta pot.

Three small oranges and a blue dish
to hold the finger rubs of friends around its rim

always, always when they come, they reach out
to stroke the leaves, to rub the dish,

to add to the stroked smug of the cat,
to peel an orange.

There they are my friends, their backs
to the wall as they bend and bow

to half heard music, from the times we danced
to the times we laughed.

A smug cat, a cosy cat, a passing cat.

© 2018, Deborah Alma (The Emergency Poet), All rights reserved


An Interview

Originally published in the December 2016 issue of The BeZine


Mendes Biondo and Deborah Alma

If I have a headache, I generally take a pill. But are we really sure that only medicines are able to heal our illnesses? Deborah Alma, poet and poemedic, said no. Poetry can give us a great hand to face our problems, in particular those that are hidden in our deepness. We had a brief chat about Deborah’s wonderful work and this is what came out.

Mendes: The theme of this issue of The BeZine is the healing power of art. Before asking you about The Emergency Poet, I would like to know your personal experience with art self-healing.

Deborah: That’s an interesting question and quite a difficult one to answer briefly. I think my own experience is like most people’s: extremely varied, very common and often very unconscious.

The moments that stand out for me I suppose were in the compulsion I felt to write myself through and out of an abusive and damaging relationship, watching my own grandmother’s solace in reading poetry after the death of her husband and as she was dying. I remember also being overwhelmed by an exhibition in London of the works of Frieda Kahlo and how bravely she painted her pain. I have worked for a few years with people with dementia and at the end of their lives using poetry.

For me, there is no doubt that art is where we can best connect with each other in ways that are intimate, empathetic and authentic.

MENDES: Now it’s the time of the Poemedic as you like to call yourself. A white coat, a stethoscope and a poetry book are the main objects you need when you ask your patients to open themselves up and then you suggest to them the right poem. What happens when patient and poem match each other?

Deborah: Ah this has been the most amazing thing for me! I had no idea when I started prescribing poetry just how much this process can work. People love to have a poem hand-picked for them after some careful listening. They see the gift and make it their own. It seems to bring a lot of joy and sometimes relief and comfort.

Mendes: Why people are frightened about reading poems and how can people involved in culture help readers to start loving poetry?

Deborah: I think that something happens, at least in the UK in secondary school where often pupils are asked to examine texts as though they were a forensic scientist, pulling out the meaning and the poet’s intention, leaving the student with a sense that somehow poems are difficult, like a puzzle to be decoded rather than being asked to respond emotionally and intuitively. They also seem to stop writing creatively themselves and being a writer yourself is the easiest way into loving poetry.

I think that there is a certain amount of snobbery in the poetry world, that asserts that poetry is not for everyone, that likes to encourage this perception of difficulty. Certainly some poetry is ‘difficult’ and the reader is rewarded and flattered by understanding it, its clever tricks, its craft, its vocabulary; but instead of saying it is just for us few, I believe we can help others in. This comes from reading widely, from a developing confidence in approaching a poem and through being invited in. This is what I aim to do with Emergency Poet, invite them in.

Mendes: You worked also with people with dementia. How can it help, in this case, reading poetry?

Deborah: I have worked using poetry with people with dementia and also with people in care homes and in hospice care for the last five years. As a poet I do know something about what it is to be intimate and honest and authentic. The thread joining poetry and these areas of work for me is this intimacy and honesty. Poetry I believe, more than any other art, with the exception perhaps of music (and they have much in common), speaks as though directly from one human being to another. It is about connection and empathy.

Most of the people that I’ve worked with who have some degree of dementia, are from the generation that learnt poetry by heart at school. As a poet working with a small group of people in a care home or day care centre I have often had the experience described so beautifully in Gillian Clarke’s poem Miracle on St David’s Day that describes the poet reading Wordsworth’s much-loved poem Daffodils in a care setting somewhere, where the words of the poem long ago learnt by heart ignite something deep inside the mind of a long mute man:

“He is suddenly standing, silently,
huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow
movement of spring water or the first bird
of the year in the breaking darkness,
the labourer’s voice recites The Daffodils.”

It is a gift and a privilege to be the one who brings this to a group of people. I worked with a group of people with sight-loss last year and as I started to read Masefield’s ‘I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky…’ and to have at least twenty voices take it up with me, one woman reciting it word perfect all the way to the end was a joy to all present and it brings a tear to my eye even now as I write this and remember it.

Mendes: Best and the worst experience you have had with the Emergency Poet?

I think the best experiences I have had with Emergency Poet, and I have had so many, was when taking the ambulance to Bristol Southmead Hospital for a few days and parking near the other ambulances and prescribing poetry to patients, stressed staff and visitors . There was something very uplifting for people , (one woman still attached to her drip and in slippers) answering questions that were gentle, uplifting and being given the gift of a poem. It worked really well there. I’m starting to work in hospices prescribing poetry, which is wonderful and intense and extremely rewarding.

Bad experiences are usually to do with bad weather, wind, rain and cold. The hardest thing for me is to prescribe poetry to people who have never really read at all, not even as children.

Mendes: We always need a box of aspirin in our pockets. Who is, for you, the poetical aspirin? Can you suggest any “everyday” poems?

Deborah: I have a few poems that I use very often; the poem I am prescribing a lot these days ( it has been a difficult year), is the beautiful poem Try to Praise the Mutilated World by Adam Zagajewski

Mendes: The ambulance is riding down the street. What and when is the next stop?

Deborah: It’s quiet over the winter because of the weather, but the next stop is to set up an inside surgery and run a workshop on compassion at a conference in London for Psychology and Psychological Therapies which will be fascinating for me. I will have fun having psycotherapists on my couch.

To know more about Deborah Alma and her work, you can visit her website The Emergency Poet, The world’s first and only mobile poetic first aid service.

© 2016, text, Mendes Biondo and Deborah Alma; All rights reserved – Published here with permission The photographic origins of the Maché painting are unclear.  It may be in the public domain. At any rate, it does not belong to me./J.D.


Ramingo’s Porch

To be aired on February 27th.

The second issue of The Ramingo’s Porch is out. This publication is cofounded and coedited by Mendes Biondo. Poems from both the first and second issues are to be read on February 27 on Ellen Sander’s Poetry Woodshed Radio (Belfast Community Radio) by the poets or other readers on their behalf. (Mine is read by actor Richard Lingua. He is based in Northern California where he works in multiple fields including theatre, the arts, and technology.)  Mendes’ partners are Catfish McDaris and Marc Pietrzykowski. Submission guidelines for Ramingo’s Porch are HERE. This is a print magazine available through Amazon. The URL for Poetry Woodshed Radio is in the illustration.