Well, here we are. It’s really happening.
First, I’d like to thank all of you for your comments on the press conference found poems. Several Poetry Friday regulars have been engaging with transcripts of the president-elect’s words. By paring away (or emphasizing) the fluff, these poems help us expose problems with the way language is used by our future president.
I’m glad my week began with a #WritersResist event in Baltimore. [Find out more about the Writers Resist movement at this website.]
There were so many powerful speakers: military veterans, high school-aged performance poets, an essayist who spoke about the history of neglect that led to Baltimore’s recent uprising, young women, elders, the city’s first youth poet laureate, academics, and activists.
I was invited to read as a representative of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change. I’ve written about the group before [read my interview with founder Michael Rothenberg here], and about my 2015 trip to the 100TPC World Conference in Italy.
The group is an earlier incarnation of the pulse that is driving #WritersResist now. 100TPC was born at the same time as the Occupy Wall Street movement, and has grown — with concurrent literary readings happening around the globe each September — ever since.
Being part of 100TPC has enriched my life with new and very dear friends, poets whose words take international stories out of the realm of newspapers and TV soundbites and into the real.
On Sunday, I shared poems by two of these poets, Michael Dickel of Israel and Menka Shivdasani of India. Both have been turning eye, pen, and heart to human rights issues in their home countries for many years. I am learning from them how to use my own eye, pen, and heart to speak truth to power.
by Michael Dickel
I am almost back perhaps. The long summer ordeal
of stress, rockets, war, death, killing has moved off
into Syria and Iraq and left us barren for a moment.
A bit of rain falling today hints at winter being
wet. We need water. We always need water. So thirsty.
The brown hills will green again, and the dry beds
recently run with blood water will wash thoroughly
so flowers may wave their red-yellow-white-purple
cacophony of emotions in winter’s permissive grace.
We need the water. We always need water. So thirsty.
Since between last summer’s war and the next,
whenever it might fall upon us, this brief moment
flickers—a satellite-pretense of being a star gliding
across black night—a mere reflection of sunlight.
We want water, we always need more water. So thirsty.
The desert will preserve these battles, mummify
the narratives, and wait as scorpions and seeds wait.
And to this I return. Almost. Maybe. Turned back
from the sea and step-by-step making my way to sweet
water. Always water. Like the night sky, I am so thirsty.
By Menka Shivdasani
The first veil was when
the country split,
a woman held apart
crushed under the weight
of muscle, bone,
and the evil smile.
After that, the second veil
the countries hid
behind their nets and little webs.
We peeped out
from behind the
Too much had already
The skin had ripped,
exteriors. The third veil,
then, was just
But it mattered when
they held her down again,
this woman born
of country blood,
and they whipped her
on the streets
so no one dared
to take her by the hand.
Instead, they took
a video of the veiled
and battered face.
These veils have begun to bleed on me.
into my flesh
and blackened skin.
You cannot hide
behind veils much longer;
they will not survive
the grenade in your hand.
The marketplace is waiting;
Michael Dickel, a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the U.S. He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and 24. Is a Rose Press released his new book, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden in 2016. His previous books are War Surrounds Us, The World Behind It, Chaos… and Midwest / Mid-East. With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a film script about Yiddish theatre. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs have appeared in print and online.
Menka Shivdasani’s first book of poems, the critically acclaimed Nirvana at Ten Rupees, was published by Adil Jussawalla for XAL-Praxis in 1990. Her second collection Stet first appeared in 2001, and her third collection, Safe House, was published recently by Paperwall Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd. Menka is also co-translator of Freedom and Fissures, an anthology of Sindhi Partition poetry, published by Sahitya Akademi in 1998 and editor of If the Roof Leaks, Let it Leak, an anthology of women’s writing that forms part of a series being brought out by Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW). She has edited two online anthologies of contemporary Indian poetry for the American e-zine www.bigbridge.org.
Menka’s poems have appeared in several publications, both in India and elsewhere. These include Poetry Review (London), Poetry Wales, Fulcrum (USA), Seminary Ridge Review (Gettysburg), the Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets, 60 Indian Poets (Penguin Books India), and the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry. She is also represented in Indian Literature in English: An Anthology, a textbook of the University of Mumbai.
Menka is joint coordinator of the Culture Beat initiative at the Press Club in Mumbai and has been a member of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association since its inception. As Mumbai coordinator for the global movement, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, she organises an annual poetry festival at the Kitab Khana book store. Menka’s career as a journalist includes a stint with South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and the publication of eleven books as co-author/ editor, three of which were released by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 1986, she played a key role in setting up the Poetry Circle in Mumbai.
Such powerful, important poems. Thank you for sharing them and for being part of an organisation like this.
Thank you, Sally. 100 Thousand Poets has been a gift in my life. Michael, Menka, and others are teaching me how poetry can be a form of activism.
One step forward, two steps back, that is the human way, no matter the country. The conference sounds empowering. Those poems are very moving.
Very true, Brenda. Yes — the conference was a life-changer.
It must have been wonderful to hear each read the poems, Laura. They’re terrific, with strong voices wanting to be heard. Thanks!
Hello, Linda. Yes — it was wonderful to hear so many different voices, accents, and languages spoken at the conference and also at the Writers Resist event.
Thank you for sharing these powerful poems for those of us who couldn’t be there to hear them read.
Thank you, Kay. I’m glad I could share them with you.
Thank you for continuing the long, proud tradition of writers and poets who have used their words to fight for equality, empathy, justice and love. Words have so much power, especially when wielded by passionate, compassionate wordsmiths. Keep fighting the good fight.
Right on, Jane! I marched in Saturday’s protest in DC with the words “POET FEMINIST ACTIVIST” on my back. I’m still trying to figure out where poetry and activism intersect for me. Glad I could share these two poets with you today.
Laura, while I missed reading your post on press conference found poems, I will backtrack to that post. The poems showcased today are deeply revealing and leave me to ponder issues of humanity. Your line how, “I am learning from them how to use my own eye, pen, and heart to speak truth to power”, is like a mantra for future writing.
Hi, Carol. Aren’t both poems beautiful? They have such a sense of urgency. We all have a lot to learn from one another, on a global level.
What an fascinating post, Laura! We have some South Asian poets in our local group and they often bring a socially aware flavor to readings. I love these words from the trenches. All the best with your work in 100 TPC. (There was a local branch of it here a couple of years ago as well.)
Thanks, Violet. I hope your local 100 TPC starts up again or maybe you’ll be inspired to get an event going in September.
Such amazing, powerful poems! Their messages different but equally disturbing and important. Sometimes I feel so helpless in this world. These conferences, these poets, your words must help empower you and relieve some of this oppression. Thanks for sharing.
Creating art out of our sense of helplessness is so important. It gives us something concrete to do, but also gives us a way to express our frustration or sadness with others. A poem can be like a box or vase to put the sadness in until the poet is ready to share it.
I, too, am struggling to learn “how to use my own eye, pen, and heart to speak truth to power.”
I hope you will write a poem about that struggle, Mary Lee.