“To the people of Darfur, of Africa, please forgive my limitations, this is a small offering.”
– from Senegal Taxi opening notes by Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States
In the summer of 2016, we witnessed Philando Castile die at the hands of a police officer in real time on our Facebook feeds, we listened to Christine Leinonen, mother of Christopher Leinonen, plea to know her son’s whereabouts after a gunman went into Pulse dance club and murdered 49 people, and we’ve cringed at the rise of a power hungry man bent on spewing a message of hate and fear with a wall at its epicenter. In response to World War II, George Orwell once said, “One ought to recognize that present political chaos is connected with the decay of language.” Through a survey of witness and social justice poetry, we will attempt to build up language once again, and encourage poets and non-poets to imagine and fight for our world with small offerings of hope.
Join me in this writing workshop to learn strategies for taking rage, fear, and heartbreak and turn them into pieces of art that may hold the power to spark change. Using poetry from Carolyn Forche, Martin Espada, Claudia Rankine and others as models, we will craft our own work and study current social media campaigns such as #BlackPoetsSpeakOut and Poets Responding to SB1070 to see how contemporary poets have been using the internet to build awareness and inspire movement.
- Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (University of Arizona Press, 2016) edited by Francisco X. Alarcón and Odilia Galván Rodriguez
- Slow Lightning (Yale University Press, 2012) by Eduardo C. Corral
- City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (WW Norton, 1993) by Martín Espada
- The Country Between Us (Copper Canyon Press, 1981) by Carolyn Forche
- Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press, 2013) by Juan Felipe Herrera
- Surveillance (Writ Large Press, 2016) by Ashaki M. Jackson
- Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) by Claudia Rankine
And if you’re doubting the power of poetry in our contemporary society, let’s remember THIS incident from earlier in the year.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and former Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner. She has work published in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and The James Franco Review. A cofounder of Women Who Submit, her debut collection Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is forthcoming from Sundress Publications.