A horde of published poets and others who are not so famous descended on Washington, D.C. this past weekend for a four day celebration of poetry and protest against the war in Iraq. The gathering was titled Split This Rock Poetry Festival. What rock? Sonia Sanchez, the famous Philadelphia based poet explained the title saying: “Any Rock that interferes with progress.” The poets congregated in, among other places, Busboys and Poets, a jazzy restaurant, café shop, bookstore, and gathering place for artists, poets, writers, and students alike, all militants for peace and justice. The owner Andy Shallal, an Iraqi American, is himself a longtime peace militant. The place’s name is a tribute to Langston Hughes who was working at the Wardman Park Hotel in D.C. where famous Russian poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay stayed. Lindsay informed the world that he discovered a “negro busboy poet.” I have attended many readings in the artistically decorated Langston room. It’s one of my favorite hang outs in the D.C. area.
One of the main topics discussed by the poets and the attendees is the impact of words in this time of politicized violence. Martin Espada, author of 12 books and an English professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst put it best:
People in this society are starved for meaning. In a time of war, the government divorces language from meaning … They drain the blood from words. Poets can put the blood back into words.”
I agree! I think Espada’s words apply just as well to militant bloggers around the world.
Such should be our mission: to uncover truths, denounce injustices, and relay the voices of those for whom no one stands, brandish the causes of destitute children, women and men, keep the memory of the opinion and political prisoners rotting in a dungeon alive, and nudge those who don’t know any better. Do not cower like those whose minds are strapped in a straightjacket of fear. Believe it that they will come around. Let’s not make the passing of those who perished believing they could change the world with words be vain. Stand against religious and political oppression. Stand for a culture that “values human rights and sanctifies human life.”
This is why we are here. To instill some sense in this nonsensical world and to stoke the fledgling spark of hope. Is it not?
Write on, with conviction!
Ahmed T. B. Copyright © 2008