It has been almost a year since we heard–mid-residency–about the massive earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, killing more than a quarter of a million Haitians. Six weeks after the quake, eighteen poets, self-described as a “quiet group, and often not a group at all,” gave a reading in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to benefit Partners in Health, the wonderful organization started by Dr. Paul Farmer. Now, as the anniversary of the quake approaches, these poets have published Poets for Haiti: An Anthology of Poetry and Art. Seven poets read from the new collection last night at Porter Square Books, our favorite local independent. It was a packed house, the largest I’ve ever seen at an indy reading.
Ophelia Dahl, CEO of Partner’s in Health, introduced the evening. She spoke of how the medical workers at PIH “accompany” people in the communities where they work, in the spirit of a Creole proverb that translates, roughly, as “you can’t eat okra with one finger.” The poets read with passion and verve. The hair rose on my neck as Haitian poet Patrick Sylvain cried out for his homeland. Former Poet laureate Robert Pinsky first read John Donne’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” before sharing his own “Ginza Samba,” an ode to the hybrid backgrounds we all share. Later, I read through editor Kim Triedman’s introduction. She is speaking of poets, but her words apply to all of us:
“We work alone. We listen to our own heady music. We write words that may or may not ever be heard. We tunnel deep into ourselves…but poets also represent something greater than themselves. They have always been the voice and the conscience of their generations–the conduits of change, and of hope, and of urgency.”
Then, as if in an echo, I turn on my computer this morning to find posts from Jane and Phyllis. They both described a poetry reading at the Birch Bark Bookstore, presented by members of Nolan Zavoral’s poetry collective. It was a frigid night in the Twin Cities and in Cambridge, but in both cities, poets, writers, and readers filled independent bookstores to hear fine words. Conduits of change, hope and urgency. Indeed.
Fine words for the end of the year. Happy holidays to all.