It’s not poetry but it’s important. As we struggle to understand, to digest pending or potential changes with the new U.S. administration, to figure out what we can do to help insure stability and to ease the pain of others, those who nurture our spiritual lives are struggling with the same questions. Through interfaith collaboration clergy support one another, coming together in conversation, in protest and in solidarity as they stand in the love of our country, all people and the world.
On Wednesday, November 30, 2016, twenty-five clergy representing Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and Christianity responded to a call to meet for a working lunch at the Congregational Church of San Mateo to discuss Leading in Difficult Times. I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in.
They discussed the same concerns and fears that you are writing about in your poems, essays and editorials: scapegoating, suppression of free speech, immigration policy that will split families and is creating anxiety among children, Islamophobia, empowerment, economic distress, women’s rights and violence by individuals or orchestrated violence in the community/country.
One rabbi pointed out, “The to-do list for the world … we never imagined so much would be pressing us with the same sense of urgency. How do you know what to do first? With all that needs to be done, how do we make sure no one is left behind and that we don’t take away the dignity of others in our process? … How do we juggle all the needs?”
“later that night i held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? it answered everywhere everywhere everywhere.” excerpt from “what they did yesterday afternoon” Warsan Shire
Just as we ponder how to support one another in our art and activism, our clergy explored the ways in which they can support one another in their roles as spiritual leaders.
Show up for each other and stand by the values we share.
Keep the spark alive. Hear the spark, the spiritual spark, hopefulness and joy.
Create a safe place to talk about personal journeys relative to the times.
Encourage one another in a clear sense of values and priorities … to act the way our traditions dictate and God wants. Stay grounded in a place of values and faith.
The heart has a need for practical things to do; we can echo the sorts of things other faith groups are doing so we can collaborate.
Love of all humankind and the value of nonviolence.
Dignity and worth of all people.
Hope that all places of worship can be a safe space for everyone.
The value of listening.
The value of acting to move through the whole project without stopping.
The value of not leaving people behind. Blessing and curses go together so where there is a curse there’s a blessing and we create the blessing.
The sanctity of speech.
Concern for the poor and disadvantaged.
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
After the clergy meeting I attended a similar discussion among the members of my own congregation. We broke out into groups to explore and agree on actions for a specific areas of concern: environment/climate change, racism and Islamophobia, women’s rights and immigration. I was in the group on immigration, where priorities are the school children now living in fear of being separated from parents or sent back to countries where their lives are at risk, the 65,000 undocumented youth graduating from high school each year and having conditional status in the States under The Dream Act*, and the brutality and aggression faced by illegal immigrants escaping violence in their countries of origin as they are rounded up for deportation by ICE officials. There is special interest in the Sanctuary Movement and making our church sanctuary. We are already a “Welcoming” community.
These have been among my activities as I took some time away from writing and poetry to think about what promises to be a different sort of world. We might have a long haul ahead of us and though . . .
The task [may not be ours] to complete, . . . neither are [we] free to desist from it. Rabbi Nachman
* These are children who are culturally American and bilingual with only a tenuous connection to their countries of origin.
Clerics interested in connecting with the Planning Team for the San Mateo clergy group featured here today and professional journalists interested in covering their activities, please contact the Planning Team at email@example.com.
These activities are what I think of as “Best Practices.” I share them here because they can be easily adopted by other communities. I would encourage those of you who are part of our The BeZine: 100,000 Poets for Change Facebook discussion page to share information and/or links to initiatives in your community that might interest others. Our poetry like our prayers must have legs. The Facebook discussion page is one I moderate along with colleagues: American-Israeli poet, Michael Dickel and Rev. Terri Stewart, Associate Pastor at Riverton Park United Methodist Church, Seattle, WA
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something … and what I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.” after Edward Everett Hale by the Sisters of St. Joseph who were my teachers and role models
100,000 Poets for Change, (110TPC) cofounded by poets and publishers Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion of Big Bridge Press, the 2016 global event day was hosted by over 550 hundred communities world-wide and other events are being held all the time including monthly in Morocco. Under the banner of 100TPC come 100,000 Peacemakers (Terri Stewart, Beguine Again), 100,000 Drummers for Change, 100,000 Mimes for Change and so on.
“All of us, whoever we may be, have our respirable beings. We lack air and we stifle. Then we die. To die for lack of love is horrible. Suffocation of the soul.” Victor Hugo,Les Misérables
And this being Tuesday, it’s time to share the responses to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt, Hypoxic Moment, June 17, which invited poets to share poems about situations that are suffocating, literally or metaphorically. Thanks to Anjum Wasim Dar, Irma Do, Irene Emanuel, Sonja Benskin Mesher, Adrian Slonaker, and Mike Stone for this collection, which invites you to ponder and to sympathize. Enjoy . . .
. . . and do join us tomorrow for the next Wednesday Writing Prompt. All are welcome: beginning, emerging, and pro poets. This is a safe place to exercise your poetic muscle, to introduce yourself to our community, and to meet other poets who may be new to you.
To my Stubborn Father from your Stubborn Daughter
Dearest Dad – You always stood your ground
With standards high above my reach
Standing on that moral hill
Cloistered rules, you did teach
I inhaled it all
You don’t know
Of the “Other”
Exhaled, these old rules
No longer hold my views
I have climbed another hill
And stand on ground planted by you
With love and principles – Your Daughter
Then in hypoxic moments everyone must be
sometime, in some moments of life, as human
beings, me, a restless soul nurturing anxiety
facing confusion, falling often suffering a neck
injury at the age of six, unconscious, for long, I
survived that hypoxic moment, to live with pain,
a tiny insect that killed a powerful king, entered
my body through the skin, injecting poison that
polluted my blood, caused shivering, sweating
intermittent fever and occasional hypoxic gaps
a severe sudden abdominal spasm would
put me off balance , gasping into oblivion.
unconscious falling into a terrifying hypoxic
moment,I survived,fortunately with help close by
“Malaria can do anything”. The doctor said, “Keep
quinine in your bag”, the sweaty feverish attacks
would drain my energy leave me bedbound for
days and weeks, the tabs prevented but did not cure.
There would be recurrent attacks, more,what caused
them, I never was sure,long time later, one night, a
severe painful spasm twisted the system inside me
nausea intense, vomiting gasps, seconds later collapse
in a hypoxic moment, no breath, no consciousness
lifeless, my head fell from side to side, darkness engulfed
the door of light closed.
“She is all blue, she will not survive”.
All was dark again, no breath, no sound, no movement
I sensed being lifted, hypoxic moment prolonged but
I had time to stay on Earth, a fast falling drip hung by
the window’s bolt, Father’s faint vision appeared before my
eyes, I slipped back into darkness unknown unfelt,
I could not breathe, someone rubbed the top of my head,
someone my feet, this hypoxic moment finally faded away
a new life blessed, my head felt empty I had no voice nor
strength in the eyes. I lay in bed for days, sipping orange
juice with glucose and D.vitamin,
I saw the line between life and death is fragile and thin.
You may read more of Irene’s poems by using the search engine on this site.
write the words, she says
it is a drop in the ocean, and cannot
help those already lost.
it was said in depth we drown, and so
we cannot rescue the drowning, record the names.
so we draw dresses.
black dresses do not sell so well.
looks like you are drowning and
hope i am wrong. i can see the
the turn about in water.
i have done that too
pat says that i have paid the price
but i wonder
you survive and come clean bare
i will lay a petal
and think of you
as i think of the others
that drowned before you
to explain to you who cannot see,
the cloy, the quantity of water, tasks, and other
hurts, that fit into a day. the moment
your feet slide into mud, with one word.
heard , read, imagined, the sentence dives and plays
whole, yet as days move on, flotation occurs,
buoys, slowly we face back to sea , swim on.
either that or drown.
will you watch the world treading.
water floats my heart high, reflected red
below, sky above.
will you hold me up when i am failing, no
longer floating . will you play soft music
that we are in this together. meanwhile shall
we keep swimming
5. will you save me from drowning?
will you let me breathe?
Step by step,
away from the
tentative comfort of my sanctuary –
with even the moving molecules of air
too public, too exposed, too raw,
the corridor too wide,
fingertips touching, clutching,
tapping, groping, palpating
wallpaper, columns, strangers’ doors
before I drag my boulder-like body,
mind lurching from lucidity,
into an inescapable elevator
I’ve waited a maddening current of minutes for,
wobbling in loafers as a dry mouth
panted, praying to God and Jesus and the Virgin Mary
it’d be empty and no one would witness the
trembling and fidgeting of feet and hands and
the heartbeat hammering like the hits I
used to dance to in nightclubs in
less dangerous times
(please don’t stop or retreat into an arrhythmia that’ll make me pass out or die and bang and crash against the tiles with the pattern of sixteen perpendicular lines I’m trying to focus on)
and the smears of sweat on my forehead,
only to scowl or snicker at a scapegoat
perceived as a pale druggie on
coke or meth or heroin or angel dust or bennies,
a stain on sane society,
instead of a frantic agoraphobe
(a shut-in before it became fashionable)
burdened by a daily panic attack
on the way to check the mail.
2020, Adrian Slonaker
You can read more of Adrian’s poetry using the search feature on this site andThe BeZine.
Raanana, November 6, 2015
The obsession of breathing
In out, in out
It doesn’t matter
As long as it continues
You think about it
And you dream about it
In out, in out
But then the time comes
And you hold onto it
Until you can’t.
The obsession of thinking
The eternal internal babbling
The great chain of associative thought
One thought leads to another
The obsession of loving
So much that you cease to exist
Against the other existence
And how can you love
If you don’t exist
But your love swallows you
And you try to escape love
But it runs along beside you
Holding your hand.
The obsession of writing
About my obsessions
Because writing fulfills one’s obsessions
In the imagination of following them
And to write about her breathing
And to write about thinking of her
And to write about loving her
Is all that a writer wants to do.
The obsession of reading
About other people’s obsessions
If they are like mine
And they write about her breathing
And they write about thinking of her
And they write about loving her
And you can do anything in the world
But look away.
The obsession of living
Of watching the sunset in the roiling sea
And of watching it rise from behind the eastern hills
Ex Oriente lux just one more time
Of hearing the well-practiced flute
From the open window of an apartment
While I’m walking Daisy
To feel the freshness of rainfall from the sky
Like manna from heaven
And her skin against mine
To taste the tang of tangerines and bitterness of coffee
To breathe the fresh washed smell
Of my granddaughter’s hair
Just one more time
One more moment
And not being able to let go of her hand
Or to look away.
Cold, oh so cold,
The life and all colors bled from the air
Too cold to breathe
My lungs fill up with coldness
And my blood carries only coldness to my dying limbs
But my dying eyes still see you
Moving away from me
The summer warmth of your beauty
The colors of your eyes and your hair
The warmth of your breathing
And the sound of it
Retreating but returning
Your arms open towards me
To keep me from retreating
But I’ve already gone
Too far away
It is night now
And I am lost.
I John H. Doe being of sound body and mind
Do solemnly wonder what it will be like
To have a last will,
Not to will or want anything more
In this life, of this earth,
Not to change my fate or my mind,
Not to stop, turn around, and go back from the edge.
I John H. Doe do solemnly wonder
What it’ll be like to draw my last breath,
To look around for more to breathe
But to find none,
To understand that that is probably that.
I John H. Doe being of sound mind and body
Do solemnly wonder what it will be like
To lose my first marble
My favorite Cats Eye memory of my very first love
Or my last marble,
My best won Dragonfly memory
Of my last and lasting love,
The smell of sunlight on her skin,
The weight of summer against her thigh.
I John H. Doe being of sound body and mind
Do solemnly bequeath my best memories
To the wind whispering through her hair.
I John H. Doe
O what a perfect day
Fragments of dappled sunlight play on rocks
Swimming is effortless as
We fly over and between the smooth rocks
One with the browngreen flow of water,
My friends on either side of me.
Days like these make me happy
For no reason whatsoever.
My friend leaps with joy into the breathless air
And like a ripple, his friend leaps too.
Now it is my turn to leap above the water
O stabbing pain!
I can’t breathe, release me, pray!
O horror, stab and crush of talons,
The thud of wings pounds the air
Death awaits me in the nearing nest,
Death, pray, release me from life’s pain.
Call of the Whippoorwill is Mike Stone’s fourth book of poetry. It and other books of poetry and of science fiction by Mike are available from Amazon all over the world. Mike’s U.S. Amazon Page is HERE.
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or, have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom
When I posted the last Wednesday Writing Prompt, Elusive Soul, July 10, I wasn’t sure anyone would want to come out to talk about death and reincarnation. But lo! Here we are. We have a poetry feast, sometimes surprized by humor and quirkiness, but mostly fed by experience, observation, intuition, and the sacred. Prepare for a few laughs, a lot to think about, and maybe inspiration for a poem of your own.
Today’s feast is brought to us courtesy of mm brazfield, Gary W. Bowers, Paul Brookes, Anjum Wasim Dar, Irma Do, Deb y Felio, Irene Emanuel, Sheila Jacob, Elena Lacy, Bozhidar Pangelov, Sonja Benskin Mesher, and Pali Raj. New to our poetry family this week and warmly welcome: Bhaha d’Auroville and Melting Neurons. I didn’t have a bio from Bhaha, so I pieced one together and hope, Bhaha, that it works for you. Since Bhaga’s bio tangentially introduces Sri Aurobindo, I’ve included a photo and a poem by him, theme related.
Enjoy! and do join us for the next Wednesday Writing Prompt. It is open to beginning, emerging, and pro poets. Don’t be shy. Join us tomorrow for a prompt that I hope you’ll like though it won’t be as stimulating as this one. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to swap it out for something more challenging. It’s late as I put a wrap on this post and tomorrow is a big day for me. You’d be surprized how busy a homebound writer can be.
For once I thought ‘It’s Wednesday,
Let’s see what today’s prompting is…’
And couldn’t believe what it was!
What to write, if I don’t believe
In reincarnation, but live
With it since I was a newborn?
And how can I write about it
‘Just from my imagination’,
When memories are flooding me
From so many places and times
Which I have known and have known me?
Oh, I do feel universal,
Old soul with yet another face
On top of another body
Whose cells still hunger for the food
They used to live by long ago
And still act upon the old vows
That I pronounced, meaning well,
In so many monasteries
Of so many dire religions
All over the entire planet,
Imprisoning myself in them!
Or other vows claiming Freedom
Without knowing quite what it was…
Yet in this life it all came back
As a whole harvest of lifetimes
Leading to this one’s turning-point
In the true Light at last of Love
For myself and for all ‘others’:
Unconditional Love at last,
Healing all with its strong Delight…
Shall I try to express all that?
It is such a tempting topic…
My very first memory?
Deep sadness within me at knowing, and telling myself:
“Here I am again,
having to pretend being a separate person again,
instead of a blissful part of the loving Whole… ”
Sadness like a huge sigh in my being,
in the Soul that I was
The feeling of going at it once again,
out of a sense,
not of obligation,
but of accepted duty.
Like shouldering up again a burden
that has to be carried
to its destination,
whatever time it may take.
This was when I was supposed to be a tiny baby
arriving back into this difficult physical world
of planet Earth.
BHAGA d’AUROVILLE lives in Auroville, a conscious community in Puducherry in South India. Auroville is also, I believe, a United Nations supported site for sustainable agriculture and global human uniity. This self-contained diversely-populated community is dedicated to the vision of Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), an Indian poet, yogi, guru, and philosopher. Sri Aurobindo was a nationalist who joined the Indian movement for independence from British colonization. He was also a spritual reformer who held a vision of human progress through spiritual evolution. Some Americans may remember that Woodrow Wilson’s daughter Magaret was a follower. In the spirit of her community, Bhaga’s blog is Lab of Evolution, For Research on Conscious Evolution. She writes,”Conscious Evolution is for you and me. It is for the whole planet. It is the Next Step which is simply the logical, to be expected continuation of all that Evolution has already made happen upon this little Earth over the eons past. The difference is that now the human species is there, and we human beings can consciously participate in our own gradual transformation into a more evolved species. Any progress in that direction, by any of us, will help accelerate the overall progress for the whole Earth and all its inhabitants. It is happening. Will you help?’
Life and Death
Life, death, – death, life; the words have led for ages
Our thought and consciousness and firmly seemed
Two opposites; but now long-hidden pages
Are opened, liberating truths undreamed.
Life only is, or death is life disguised, –
Life a short death until by Life we are surprised.
– Sri Aurobindo
I’d ravage The Endless back into a savagely peaceful state,
where the darkness ceased against the ripping of sunlight
and flesh was made to stagger under new form and structure.
I’d break down amidst the ferocity of nerves completely aflame,
blazing mysterious life back in a rictus of fresh birthed anguish
that would howl up and out a throat misshapen to memory.
I’d rest my pained eyes on reflective surface and cast out,
cast out into the recesses of my mind to search for recognition,
failing and withering beneath the harsh gasp of true newness.
So I would be reborn, brought about by misguided hope,
faithfully preserved in the belief that housed in a new sanctuary
madness and sanity would restore to a natural balance
leaving me aware of a change, but aching with the loss.
MELTING NEURONS resides in Wenatchee, WA where he lives with his wife, dog and stuffed owl. They hail from Bend, OR originally, except the dog, who’s a Texan death row survivor. He has lived in more than 75 cities across the country at various points including Boston and New Bedford, MA. His writing centers around a lifetime filled with adventures in schizoaffective bipolar, addiction, and the dichotomy of being everything from a corporate executive to homeless on the streets for years. He is a member of the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective and enrolled in Wenatchee Valley College studying English and Creative Non-Fiction. His blog is HERE.
as a young dad he formed the
habit of when leaving the house
of telling his young wife and tod
dler with mock-solemn drama:
“i am going on a mission…
i may never return.”
he did that 218 times.
there was a thirty-five year
between #217 and #218,
which was on his deathbed,
into his daughter’s
she laughed a little, then hiccup-
sobbed. but he ska-sneezed
and said “mission accom–”
in this life
i suddenly remembered.
and so i say
As some of you know, Gary is multi-talented, combing visual art with poetry or prose narrative. He is also a potter. A sample of his work is pictured here. Gary’s pottery is available for purchase. Further details HERE. Note the business card. We appreciate Gary’s wry humor.
i’m that girl
this Eden is
i’ve crawled on my belly
since the time of the Pharaohs
and i’m feeling deeply tired
today i make the case that gifting
me free will does not compare to heaven
when i close my eyes the cries of Mary
still echo in my ears while Martha’s
brother slumbers wrapped in linens
and the taste of chocolate
melting joy on my tongue
careless angels send
Your blessed signs
FYI: Paul Brookes, a stalwart participant in The Poet by Day Wednesday Writing Prompt, is running an ongoing series on poets, Wombwell Rainbow Interviews. Connect with Paul if you’d like to be considered for an interview. Visit him, enjoy the interviews, get introduced to some poets who may be new to you, and learn a few things.
Once I was a worshipped cat,
I’m absolutely sure of that.
Whisker greys adorn my face,
which are the basis for my case.
At ease with every cat I meet,
without a cat, I’m not complete.
We greet and speak by sight and touch
and though that really isn’t much,
I swear the cats know who I was
when formally, I was their boss.
So when a cat is scared and hisses,
I shower him with gentle kisses,
until the present is the past
and he knows who I am at last.
in the fifties there was war
and hatred of those people
in the sixties there was war
and the hatred of those people
in then eighties, nineties, the same
then a new century came
no different now
war and hate
why would anyone
want to reincarnate
to be the hater or the hated
you lose either way
I’ll just stick
with Groundhog Day
Let a roan mare house my soul.
Let her coat be blue.
Let her name be Ocean.
Let her spine be strong.
Let her mane flow unplaited.
Let her ears twitch at the growl of thunder.
Let her face be winsome and her eyes gentle.
Let her tail swish to the hush of the tide.
Let her be free from bridle, saddle and bit.
Let her run in the company of other horses.
Let her chase the wind across green fields.
Let her travel country lanes and city streets
and mountain paths dusted with pine cones.
Let her follow the river and reach the valley.
Let her drink from clear streams.
Let her graze under the stars.
Let her gallop across sand and shingle
and the sea’s frothing hem.
Let her whinnying breath scatter the clouds.
Let her dance on the beach at sundown
and trace the moon’s halo with silver-tipped hooves.
Waking up after centuries of silence
Old memories still linger, but their meanings are elusive.
My Self, woven deliriously at the intersection of the old world neuroses,
Is trying to reach out for mirrors
Searching for familiar worries and joys
Suspended and in need of direction.
And, all of a sudden, that need for change feels familiar.
Life is flooding my existence once again…
In the sunny mantle
the souls fall asleep
They are returning to Earth
(to calm the fast time)
And if ever
on the green hill
from a clean river
someone woke you up
stretch your hands
with your palms up
and you will feel
streams of golden sparks –
the soul of the sun
wish I wish I were born too stunned.
my mom must have sensed my presence.
don’t look at me as though I have grown another head.
what if, I can feel your nerves bubbling up?
elusive soul, a poem make a stand ….yeah
I shake my head smiling.
I smile a small smile.
p.s. it’s difficult to me to show outward affection.
Recent in digital publications:
* Four poems , I Am Not a Silent Poet
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)(July 2019) * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review (July 2019) Upcoming in digital publications:
* The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice (August 2019)
A busy though bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Levure littéraire, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, HerStry, Connotation Press,The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Woven Tale Press, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a virtual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor. Among others, I’ve been featured on The MethoBlog, on the Plumb Tree’s Wednesday Poet’s Corner, and several times as Second Light Live featured poet.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions, reprint rights, or comissions.
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton
Thank you for sharing your love of words. Comments will appear after moderation.
“Writers imagine that they cull stories from the world. I’m beginning to believe that vanity makes them think so. That it’s actually the other way around. Stories cull writers from the world. Stories reveal themselves to us. The public narrative, the private narrative—they colonize us. They commission us. They insist on being told. Fiction and nonfiction are only different techniques of story telling. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, fiction dances out of me, and nonfiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning.” Arundhati Roy in her speech Come September, Lensic Performing Arts Center, September 29,2009
On April 11 PEN America announced the full lineup of events for the 2019PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets (May 6-12), focusing on the dissolving boundary between the public and the private in the literary, cultural, social, and political realms. The genres of literary memoir and personal testimony have flourished, in part through increased digital avenues for storytelling, revelation, and exposé. Movements like #MeToo and continuing reports of abuse within religious organizations have demonstrated the political velocity of deeply personal revelations, illuminating suppressed experiences and forcing society-wide reckonings. Personal narratives and individual stories have become catalysts for social change. At the same time, the digital revolution has enabled political micro-targeting and the leveraging of personal data in insidious ways that reshape attitudes, buying habits, and even democratic decision-making. In the seventy-plus events comprising the fifteenth anniversary of the Festival, New York and its most vital cultural institutions—from the Apollo Theater, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan, to Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, to BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance—will teem with stirring ideas and provocative debates. Fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, journalists, thinkers, artists, and activists will gather to unpack the issues around what we withhold and what we reveal, and the opportunities and dangers inherent in the rapid reconfiguring of the public and the private.
“The voluntary surrender of privacy in return for convenience, access, and human connection is fast reshaping expectations of what remains personal,” says PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “As digital technologies steamroll forward, we aim through this Festival to hit the pause button to examine why these borders are being redrawn and how writers, creators, thinkers, and individuals can influence what aspects of our lives remain truly our own as well as how to shape narratives once they enter the public sphere.”
“PEN World Voices offers an annual occasion for writers, artists, and intellectuals to pool resources for a weeklong exchange of creativity and ideas. In our era of global and national discord, such collaboration is essential—both as a refuge and a way forward. We hope that this year’s exceptional lineup, applied to a timely theme, will prove revelatory for participants and audience alike,” says PEN America President Jennifer Egan.
“Presenting Arundhati Roy as the keynote speaker of this festival is nothing short of a dream come true for me,” says Chip Rolley, Director of the PEN World Voices Festival. “Throughout her illustrious writing career, encompassing fiction of arresting lyricism and essays of incisive urgency, Arundhati Roy has been one of the most valiant defenders of the rights of both the individual and the collective. She caps a week of events that confront our society’s fast-evolving approach to personal narrative, exposition, and exposé. Our participants include some of the most potent exemplars of how social norms governing gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality have been up-ended by the sheer force of personal stories entering the public sphere. The festival offers audiences a ringside seat in witnessing the power of narrative in changing the world.”
New platforms of communication have enabled writers to discover the mobilizing power of their stories; simultaneously, exciting new literary voices have emerged, and established authors have been emboldened to explore highly personal territory. A signature Festival event of powerful personal testimony, It Happened to Me (May 11), hosted by The Guardian USopinion editor Amana Fontanella Khan, brings together authors Édouard Louis (Who Killed My Father), Scholastique Mukasonga (The Barefoot Woman), Pajtim Statovci (Crossing: A Novel), and Grace Talusan (The Body Papers), journalist and filmmaker Shiori Ito (Black Box), and poets Romeo Oriogun and Paul Tran. In Voices of the Silenced (May 11), Executive Director of Words Without Borders Karen M. Phillips will moderate a discussion with Scholastique Mukasonga, Idra Novey (Those Who Knew), and Marcia Tiburi (Feminismo em comum: Para todas, todes e todos) about placing survivors of assault at the center of works they’ve written. In Intimate Terrorism, on May 10, Shiori Ito, poet Gerður Kristný (Bloodhoof), authors Miriam Toews (Women Talking) and Anne Summers (Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir), and journalist Rachel Louise Snyder (No Visible Bruises) will speak of why we need to bring stories of violence against women into the public realm, and how they’ve done this in their own writings. In Secrets and Lives, memoirist Dani Shapiro (Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love) and novelist and filmmaker Bridgett M. Davis (The World According to Fannie Davis) will share the extraordinary secrets that defined their families (May 12). Tara Westover’s 2018 memoir Educated described her harrowing childhood in a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho—isolated from society as they prepared for the world’s end—and her escape into the halls of Cambridge and Harvard; she will tell that story in The Cost of an Education, with author Min Jin Lee (May 6). Édouard Louis (The End of Eddy),Carolin Emcke (How We Desire), Masha Gessen (The Future is History), and choreographer Bill T. Jones (Story/Time: The Life of an Idea) will join in The Laws of Desire—a revealing discussion on sexuality and gender—and talk about how desire evolves beyond borders of orientation and can, over time, reveal its multi-faceted realities (May 6).
Open Secrets will also include those who have boldly undertaken the dangerous—and monumentally important—work of exposing the abuses they themselves have experienced at the hands of governments. Thirty years after the Tiananmen Square Protests, the Festival will feature Rise Up: Tiananmen’s Legacy of Freedom and Democracy, a celebration of the dauntless courage and youthful defiance that challenged China’s authoritarian establishment, spotlighting and honoring those who continue to fight for freedom around the world today. Leading social justice advocate Reverend William Barber II and activist artists Fogo Azul, Sonia Guiñansaca, Aja Monet, Martha Redbone, Jesse Paris Smith, and Aaron Whitby have joined a lineup that includes Students for a Free Tibet board member Chemi Lhamo, exiled Chinese-born novelist and dissident Ma Jian, poet, novelist, musician, and documentarian Liao Yiwu, translator Michael Martin Day, and Tiananmen Square student protest leaders Zhou Fengsuo, Zhang Boli, Wang Dan, and Fang Zheng. Directed by Elena Rodriguez with a script by Catherine Filloux, this special event will be held May 7 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine as part of its exhibit The Value of Sanctuary.
In a return of Cry, the Beloved Country (May 9), a stellar line-up of writers will offer eloquent accounts of the struggles in their respective countries, speaking in their original languages with simultaneous translation on screen: Ma Jian, Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, Egyptian PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Ahmed Naji (Using Life), author and PEN International President Jennifer Clement (Gun Love), Ukrainian poet Marianna Kiyanovska (The Voices of Babyn Yar), Greek novelist Christos Ikonomou (Good Will Come From the Sea), and Russian poet Kirill Medvedev (It’s No Good: poems/essays/actions). Ulrich Baer (What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech and Truth on Campus) will moderate a conversation between photographer and documentarian Daniel Blaufuks (Under Strange Skies), playwright Catherine Filloux(whatdoesfreemean?), Tanisha C. Ford (Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul), and Domenico Starnone (Trick), on how authors and artists can challenge nations’ self-idealizing ways of distorting and erasing inconvenient histories (May 10).
The 2019 PEN World Voices Festival honors poets with extraordinary bodies of work that blur interiority and sociopolitical dissent—and looks toward a new generation of writers driving the form. After Raúl Zurita’s imprisonment by the Pinochet regime in 1973, the legendary poet of resistance chronicled atrocities committed against the Chilean people, including attacks on their language; on May 8, Zurita will read his poetry, and will join poet Norma Cole and poet/translator William Rowe in conversation. In Poetry to Power (May 10), Puerto Rican poet, activist, and actress Caridad de la Luz, aka La Bruja, will interview acclaimed poet Juan Felipe Herrera—the first Mexican-American U.S. Poet Laureate—and both will read their own works; the evening will also feature readings of poetry written by undocumented young adults. On May 7, celebrated poets Morgan Parker (Magical Negro), Jericho Brown (The Tradition), and Fatimah Asghar (If They Come for Us) will read from their work and join in conversation about crafting deeply personal poetry that carries the grief and pain of historical crime and ancestral trauma. On May 9, in Essex Hemphill: Remembering and Reimagining, author/activist Darnell L. Moore (No Ashes in the Fire); writer, poet, and playwright Timothy DuWhite; interdisciplinary artist, performer, and writer Ni’ja Whitson; and filmmaker and poet Michelle Parkerson will pay homage to Essex Hemphill, the incisively political poet who gave voice to the experiences of black gay men in America during the 1980s and 1990s and who is among the generations lost to AIDS. May 11 will also include a day of programming in celebration of the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa (The Emperor of Water Clocks), with events featuring many of his former students and peers. Black Arts Movement catalyst Sonia Sanchezwill perform with the Worker Writers School poets led by Mark Nowak (May 11), and in a second program (May 12), will be joined by Ras Baraka and April R. Silver to discuss revolution across generational lines and how to use art in the pursuit of justice. The Worker Writers School is a collaboration between Nowak and PEN America to cultivate and feature the poetry of low income wage earners from the Domestic Workers United, Taxi Drivers Alliance, Retail Action Project, and the Street Vendors Project.
Digital technology has the potential to democratize global politics, empower activists, and facilitate free speech, but recent events have also shown us how technology can exert a sinister influence on democratic practices. In Siri, Where’s My Democracy? Presented with The Guardian (May 11), Carole Cadwalladr—the celebrated investigative journalist who broke the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal—author and journalist Sue Halpern (Summer Hours at the Robbers Library), and privacy expert Danielle Citron (Hate Crimes in Cyberspace) will assess the utopian potential against the dystopian outcome that can result from the interaction of tech and politics. In Orwell’s China (May 8), Ma Jian (China Dream) and journalist Leta Hong Fincher (Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China) will speak with Chip Rolley, addressing the heightening surveillance culture, police state, and attacks on feminism in China. In Surveillance Capitalism, Human Autonomy, and You, Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism) and Douglas Rushkoff (Team Human) will join Siva Vaidhyanathan(Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy) to discuss questions of free will and autonomy in an age where our online behavior is closely tracked and manipulated for profit (May 8). The Big Chill: Creativity in the Era of Data Mining—with Dave Eggers (The Circle), technology journalist and Recode Decode host Kara Swisher, H.M. Naqvi(The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack and Home Boy), and students from the International Youth Congress Ifeoma White-Thorpe and Iman Abdul—will pair two generations of thought leaders in examining the impact of digital surveillance on creative expression. Digital technology has also radically reshaped our personal lives. Love in the Time of Tinder, featuring Niviaq Korneliussen (Last Night in Nuuk), Gabriela Wiener (Sexographies), Mary H.K. Choi(Permanent Record), and BuzzFeed Books founding editor/#AMtoDM co-host Isaac Fitzgerald, will look at how literature reflects the tumultuous digitized terrain of modern love and sexuality (May 7).
This year’s festival will also amplify stories from those with a keen understanding of the most contentious space within our own national discourse—the southern U.S. border. Soledad Castillo and Gabriel Méndez—who, through the oral history initiative Voice of Witness, shared their stories of border crossing to escape manifold horrors at home—will speak with the platform’s co-founder, acclaimed author Dave Eggers (The Parade), and the organization’s executive director Mimi Lok, in My Story, My Journey, My Freedom (May 8). On May 10, in This Transfronterizo Life, Jennifer Clement and Willivaldo Delgadillo (Garabato)—two authors whose experiences span both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border—will discuss this fraught space and the cross-cultural influences in their work with Oliver Laughland, senior reporter at The Guardian US. Dreaming Out Loud will feature stories written by undocumented students and DREAMers under the creative guidance of authors Álvaro Enrigue, Lisa Ko, and Charlie Vázquez (May 11).
2019 PEN World Voices’ lineup of challenging and enlightening contemporary writing includes recent examples of literary fiction’s richest offerings from the U.S. and abroad. On May 8, Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings) will speak with Victor LaValle (The Changeling) about his leap into the genre of epic fantasy, and about building a meticulous imaginary world around elements of African mythology for his Dark Star trilogy (whose first book Black Leopard, Red Wolf was released in February). Sheila Heti (Motherhood) and Elif Batuman (The Idiot) will discuss their approach to the autobiographical novel, and how they’ve blended memoir and fiction (May 10). In Women Uninterrupted, Elif Shafak (Three Daughters of Eve), Inês Pedrosa (In Your Hands), and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan (Manhattan Beach) will discuss their creating remarkable fictional female characters (May 11). Acclaimed Latin American authors Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Chaos: A Fable) and Rodrigo Fresán(The Invented Part) will discuss their work in The Library of Borges (May 7). Rodrigo Rey Rosa will also join Tommy Orange (There There) and Mohammed Hanif (Red Birds) in The Art of Violence (May 12), talking about their approaches to rendering brutal and traumatic circumstances on the page. Resonances—moderated by PEN World Voices co-founder Esther Allen—will feature Niviaq Korneliussen, Bridgett M. Davis, Gabrielle Bell (Everything Is Flammable), and Willivaldo Delgadillo reading passages from their own works as well as writing by authors who have influenced them (May 9).
As a festival that transcends genres and mediums, PEN World Voices will feature living legend Philippe Petit (On the High Wire), who famously walked between the roofs of the Twin Towers in 1974. He has, in the words of Mikhail Baryshnikov, achieved “a precise balance of chaos and creativity,” and will share what it takes to do this with fellow artist Elizabeth Streb in Artists of the Air (May 7). George Packer (The Atlantic) has written Our Man, a compelling biography of Richard Holbrooke, arguably the last great American diplomat, which he will discuss with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and journalist Ahmed Rashid in A Very American Diplomat(May 7). Tibetan Buddhist meditation master and best-selling author Yongey Mingyur Rinpochewill speak with his student Laurie Anderson about his latest book, In Love with the World, and the transformative experiences he details within it (May 7). On May 10, the New York premiere screening of Kirill Serebrennikov’s film Leto will follow Kino co-founding singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi on his early journey from underground experimentation towards Soviet Union-wide stardom. With the film touching on Soviet censorship in the 1980s, and Serebrennikov currently under house arrest in Russia, the event will, on multiple levels, serve as a tribute to uninhibited creativity in the face of institutional oppression. Last year’s One Book One New Yorkchampion Jennifer Egan will join BuzzFeed Books editor Arianna Rebolini, in an announcement and introduction of this year’s winner (May 10).
The Festival’s embrace of conversation-starting work further extends to live performance. World Voices: International Play Festival 2019—a four-day festival within the festival presented with The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center—will feature readings of works by Nora Abdel-Maksoud, Sibylle Berg, Necati Öziri, Falk Richter, Yael Ronen, and Sivan Ben-Yishai, all playwrights connected to the Gorki Theater in Berlin (May 6-9). In Elyla Sinverguenza: Countering Colonialism: A Queer Ritual of Healing, PEN World Voices partners with BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance to present yet another expressive form: queer Nicaraguan performance artist Elyla Sinverguenza will perform their new work, Saint Peter Goose/Duck Pulling, reimagining a violent hyper-masculine ritual as a healing act (May 11). PEN World Voices also partners with the 2019 MATA festival to present Poetry in Concert:Blo∂hofnír(Bloodhoof), a work that expands audiences’ notions of how poetry can be experienced, in a sonic realization of Iceland’s Gerður Kristný’s Bloodhoof, her incisive feminist reevaluation of the classic Eddic poem “Skírnismál” (May 11).
The PEN America Prison Writing Program has commissioned incarcerated writers to reflect on the tensions between the realm of public readership and the often hidden creative life in prison. A selection of their works—by Peter Dunne, Greg Goodman, Lacino Hamilton, Elizabeth Hawes, Matthew Feeney, Benjamin Frandsen, Arthur Longworth, Santonio Murff,and Anna Vanderford—will be read by a dynamic group of authors, poets, actors, and activists, including Mahogany L. Browne, Aja Monet, Jon Sands, Christopher Soto, Kirya Traber, and Jecoina Vinson, in Exposure: On writing in prison (May 8).
Next Generation Now is a daylong series of stories and activities for children and families to experience literature as a means to become socially engaged, curated by Meg Lemke of Mutha Magazine on May 11 at Town Stages. It includes the fun and fabulous Drag Queen Story Hour(ages 3-8) featuring Miz Jade; the creative workshop Spellbound Theatre: Today I Will Be Fierce! (for children up to age 8), with Nidhi Chanani (co-creator of I Will Be Fierce!); Finding Your Voice: Comics Carousel, with graphic novel pioneers Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy), Nidhi Chanani, and Jerry Craft (New Kid), and emcee Robert Sikoryak (The Unquotable Trump) giving dramatic readings and visual presentations of their works (for ages 8-14); Hello, Planet(for kids up to 8) with illustrator Liniers, who will read from his picture book Good Night, Planet and paint a mural based on audience participation; You Kid: A Comics and Graphic Novel Workshop with Jerry Craft (for ages 7-14) and Make a Book with 826NYC! (for ages 8-14), both engaging and honing young people’s own storytelling potentials; and more. In Truth or Tales?, acclaimed YA writers Fatima Shaik, Martha Brockenbrough, Susan Kuklin, Torrey Maldonado, and Rita Williams-Garcia will discuss discerning fact from fiction in the digital age.
PEN World Voices Media Sponsors include WNYC, The Guardian, The New Republic, and New York Magazine.
PEN Americastands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. It’s mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
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