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The Poet and the City

Fez, Morocco, June 2013

Poet panelist interviewed at break in Forum

As part of the sacred music festival, a forum
is dedicated to “the Poet and the City,”
discussions by a panel of distinguished poets from many countries
on the poet’s responsibility to society,
the place of poetry within the world.

My poet sister, Riantee, and I enter the courtyard
and settle into folding chairs under a thin awning
that blocks most but not all of the heat.
Riantee translates from French, whispering into my ear
the gist of the phrases.

The relationship between poetry and politics,
the polity and the poesie, the polis and the poeia…

Some of the poets have prepared speeches
tying the subject of the forum to the theme of this year’s festival,
“Re-enchanting the World,” and its homage to the great Persian poet,
Omar Khayam.

Think of something vital, says one.
Then take a step back and think with marvel, with enchantment.
As an example, my life was a two-way street and around a corner
was a car coming straight at me. The marvel was to be alive afterward.

My second life was not just to say, but to do,
to confront the lie that had been my life before.
Entering all the religions,
encountering the fact that each one believes it has the truth
Le dieux or le dieux…
Enchantment is the consciousness of death,
it is the experiencing, the experience.
Poetry is essentially experimental.

Poetry should always be spoken and not read.
The poet is the shepherd of the word.
The spirituality of poetry, that’s its power,
to be a witness.

There is an ambiguity between poetry
and spirituality because the poet is in the pay
of the powerful of this world—the kings.
They censor, shut his mouth.

I taste salt
on my lips without being aware of sweating.

Many poets are banned from their own century,
from their country, especially here.
The freedom of expression of the poet
nowadays is controlled by the market and the economy.

Because of the crisis we are living now, we look at the past
at what the poets had to say in order to
discover what is breaking his voice. There are factors
that change the reality of the truth, influence
it in a certain direction that is no longer true.

An announcement from the moderator:
one of the poets who was going to speak is lost somewhere in the medina.
As soon as we have news, we will give it to you.
Laughter ripples through the audience.

This is my gift, says another, poetry is verbal, vocal,
a catching in the throat, a sign, a place in the shade,
a burning at the base of the spine. What other people
call wonder we find as we fall, a sense of the ground giving way
always, with each next step.

An audience member expresses amazement
to hear what he has been hearing, wonders if by enchantment,
the panel is suggesting that it is the poet’s job to justify
atrocities, in this world that has come to a place of no return.

We call on a more ancient world, still an enchanted world
and stumble into the urban world filled with torture and the films
in which Orwell asks, “What is the use of
art and literature in our time?”

Salvador Dali, in relation to the civil war in Spain, had only one arm
and his moral sense didn’t go any further than the elbow.
Orwell said abundantly that disenchantment
is part of the discourse of the poet.
He took that from Shakespeare.

Is it the poet’s responsibility to be merely a witness, then,
a reporter of horrors?
Stop looking at the world to find marvelous things;
if you look too long, eventually, you find amazement and horror.
After a while you begin to feel something called suicide,
you look and you feel murdered.

You have to genuinely be alive.
Poetry is stronger than these things.
In any conflict that involves oppression,
poets are one of the first voices censored
Poet as agitator, poet as reconcilor, poet as articulator.
Poet as thief, poet as romancer, necromancer.
Poetry delivers paradoxical feelings.

In Nigeria, the first person is the compassionate
and the last is the people. It is a daily poetry,
the voice of the multi-rhythm
is considered a poetry.

A young Nigerian produced the first movie in our country.
He suffered very well separated from his father.
He traveled with a poet in order to enchant his father and find his father.

There is the Gulf War and the cemetery cities;
they create indifference.
An accelerator of history is the Gulf War,
so many things happen,
improbabilities. The people in the countryside,
they are not even thinking about food. They are thinking
about water.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Much food for thoughts. Many beginings for many poems. . . and some endings.
    Inspiring, It brought me right back there.
    I will send ypu my own version of the same forum. Interesting to compare.

    1. Yes, it was interesting to revisit and to edit. It’s not quite a poem, though I kept poetic line breaks. It’s a manifesto and a reference for many ideas. Love, Tea

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