Popping up for refugees on World Poetry Day
"Encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals" on the other hand, is an aim I am happy to get behind. Although "poetry recital" does sound -- if not quite outdated, perhaps overly quaint, evoking the poetry pursuits of school-days (of which, please note, my memories are all good) - I am a huge believer in poetry being shared not just through books but by being spoken, performed, read aloud, and slammed.
The descendants of Homer who make up the Poets Circle in Athens also believe in the power of spoken poetry. They invited poets around the world to join together this World Poetry Day (also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) in performing readings calling attention to the cataclysm of our time, the refugee crisis.
It is so natural, so unsurprising, that this idea saw the light in Greece. Or better, under the light of Greece - that incandescent, supernal light, as Henry Miller described it in the best book ever written about Greece by a non-Greek, The Colossus of Maroussi. "One would have to be a toad, a snail or a slug not to be affected by this radiance which emanates from the human heart as well as from the heavens," he writes. "Wherever you go in Greece the people open up like flowers".
Travelling in Greece and experiencing the same extraordinary hospitality fifty years after Henry Miller - years in which the Greeks had suffered through occupation by the Axis powers during World War Two, a bloody civil war, and a repressive military dictatorship -- we used to say that it must have been because of the strength of their age-old tradition of having gods who were always popping down to earth in human form, so that any stranger knocking at your door could have been a god in disguise.
And the tradition continues:
|Photograph: Kostis Ntantamis/AP via The Guardian|
In Auckland poets Ruby Porter, Gregory Kan, Ole Maiava, Mohamed Hassan and Siobhan Harvey responded to the invitation of the Athens poets by sharing their poems in a pop-up reading on the steps of the Central City Library, hosted by Auckland Libraries in association with PEN International and the World Poetry Movement.
How do you measure the weight of a human life, asked Ruby Porter, in a poem which caught at me with its mix of combativeness and eloquence:
How to weigh a life
The weighing of a human life: like smoke hard to measure.
Andrew Little says seven-fifty
Joyce two to three hundred
the government under pressure agree to six.
(A number not necessarily divisible by families.)
What then? Do a Winston Peters & send back the men?
And you? You move freely intake sharply flame racing to your
We watched smoke last time you were up Harvey Keitel &
That first scene where they discuss the bet
Sir Walter Raleigh made with Queen Elizabeth the First
you can’t do that that’s like weighing air.
The weighing of a human life: like gallons of water. How many is there
The ocean is made up of two hundred and sixty four million.
Oceans away (you are)
land locked but still you fly over sea to get here
taking off & landing at will.
If I could swim to you I would.
it’s easy to turn from them.
The TV flickers blue and grey but that’s all that happens.
It’s easy to turn it off when it’s on TV
(I can’t turn it off with you.)
Weighing a human life: like the sea that holds them down
side turn on it
I want to spoon you
spoon fed our news in two minute sound bites
one for the refugee crisis
three for the flag.
The difference William Hurt’s character said
was the weight of the smoke.
You said you signed every petition you found online &
you wanted to go to the protest but you were working that day.
The weighing of a human life: like tapping out the parts of bodies onto scales
sad solo in A minor
this much will overbalance our rockstar economy
this much will overflow our state housing – isn’t it already?
(I don’t know which city you call home anymore & it bothers me.)
I guess we have many.
You are a kind of home to me.
Sometimes after you leave
I sleep on your side
of the bed – it still smells of you
for a night or two.
Musk incense coconut perfume smoke.
The counting of human lives: like drops of water
window at night
when you are here you say
it always rains when we’re together.
As if you can just tally it up lives like numbers on a spreadsheet.
What’s your value? Reduce it down & export to excel.
On screen William Hurt’s character said
I’ll admit it’s strange
it’s almost like weighing someone’s soul.
The weighing of a human life: like each head has a cost & we can just assess it.
How many refugees could twenty six million save?
You smoke it till it’s all gone then you weigh the ash.
Like weighing a human life
Right now you are not beside me
but rain is still running
The credits were running & you said
I knew there’d be a Tom Waits song
sad voice in F major.
You stub out your smoke.
We turn off the TV.