Poetry, Violence and Hope

Report from the Republic of Poetry, Part 2

Festival Logo
Festival Logo

Life here in Australia has been pretty intense, and I needed a break from heatwaves and mass death of endangered species. My thoughts went to Trois Rivières in Canada, and to the International Festival of Poetry. As I wrote in an earlier post, poets came from all over the world to meet, read, and gain inspiration. Many of them had complicated lives of resistance and exile, and many of those complications were signalled by dual origins: Iraq/Spain, Egypt/Québec, Cuba/ Québec, Syria/France. Across languages, histories, lives, continents, revolutions, wars, injury and love – across all these distances and experiences, the Festival held poetry at the heart of human experience, and enabled us to share gifts of friendship, understanding and passionate expression.

Several poets wrote from the conjunction of poetry, violence, and hope. My interest was captured by poetry that was not polemical, but that offered a different voice, a poetic voice, in the midst of persecution, revolution, extremism and other forms of violence. I was able to interview two of these fascinating poets. This post is dedicated to Mona Latif-Ghattas and Taja Kramberger.

Mona Latif-Ghattas, Trois Rivières, October 2013.
Mona Latif-Ghattas, Trois Rivières, October 2013.

Mona’s national identification is Egypt/Québec. The poetry she read, and her introductions to each poem, were invariably close to the tumultuous events of Egypt in the period from the revolution in 2011 up until our conversation in October 2013. In the interview, Mona talks about her involvement in the 2011 revolution and the commitment she made to write a poem every day in solidarity. She discusses her work in literacy programs for women, and her anger with political ideologies that harm religion by using it for politics and violence. She has been involved with people who were writing the constitution that Egyptians have just voted on, and she explains her views on the constitution, poetry, activism, and the work of building a more just society. She speaks of poetry’s capacity to go deeply into people’s hearts and souls. Her incomparable energy is itself a demonstration of hope – for an Egypt that is just and that lives up to its deep history and world-wide influence. The conversation concludes with Mona reading a poem written for an activist friend in distress; the reading is in English, and the poem is translate by Peter Boyle. Mona offers a beautiful demonstration of the power of poetry to bring solace and healing.

Mona, Peter Boyle and I had this conversation on 11 October, 2013 in Trois Rivières, Québec, Canada.

 

Taja Kramberger, Trois Rivières, October 2013
Taja Kramberger, Trois Rivières, October 2013

Taja Kramberger is a Slovenian poet and historian now living in Paris. Just recently, she tells me, she has become involved with a group called ‘Art in Exile’. Our conversation was wide-ranging, starting with her account of an event in Amiens organised by Jean Foucault in which poets went into the zoo to read to the nocturnal animals. She tells of a dialogical moment of recognition that still captivates and interrogates her. We moved from animals to questions of theory and poetry, and the need for both analytic and poetic discourse. From there it was a short conversational step to violence. Taja speaks of her academic and poetic interest in the Dreyfus affair, and offers her view that in the late 20th century violence became elaborated and sophisticated, often concealing itself beneath a veneer of a different character. The conversation concludes with Taja reading an English translation of a segment of her Dreyfus work – a stunning poem called ‘Degradation’.

Taja, Peter Boyle and I had this conversation on 11 October, 2013 in Trois Rivières, Québec, Canada.

© Deborah Bird Rose (2014)

 

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