100 Thousand Poets for Change – What Does It Mean to Me?
I live in Wisconsin, and in the late winter of 2011, many of us here were shocked into protesting the agenda of our new governor, Scott Walker. We were using Facebook to exchange a lot of information quickly and effectively: the locations of rallies, news stories, songs, poems, actions. In the midst of all that exchange appeared a man’s bearded and smiling face outlined by a sunflower. He lived on the West Coast and he was asking people via Facebook to sign onto something that he was calling 100 Thousand Poets for Change. The name alone was compelling; and his vision, even more so. He suggested that we claim one day on which poets all over the world would stand up and share a vision of change. He encouraged people to craft this day to the needs of their own communities. I was impressed and inspired.
I immediately started telling my poet friends about this, and before I knew it, we had an event taking shape. I felt it was important for our community to be gently awakened to the power of words. We are a town of 50,000 people. This is not Chicago, Los Angeles, or even Milwaukee. It seemed very important to me, and I said this over and over, that we not use this day like a hammer, but more like a daisy. My goal for the day in Sheboygan was to wake people up to poetry as a force for truth and goodness. I had no political agenda in mind and no cause to promote. My only goal was the advancement of poetry. I wanted (and still want) every person in Sheboygan to have a favorite poet or poets, and a favorite poem that sustains and inspires.
I am quite sure I did not achieve my goal the first time out of the chute, although we did have a stellar day. We began at Mead Public Library. I invited our state’s poet laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen to come to Sheboygan and give a reading and lead on open mic. The library kindly signed on to provide him a small honorarium for his time and effort. There were about 20 people at the reading, and several people participated in the open mic. I read an excerpt from a long poem by Oscar Wilde called Panthea. I had found the excerpt on a website called Your Daily Poem, and although much of the language is quite old-fashioned, and there were many words I stumbled over, Wilde’s message is strong and clear. He perfectly sums up our interconnectedness to all things. When I write my own poetry, this is what I try to express. So, I hoped that our 100TPC day would help people see this as well:
We Are Made One With What We Touch and Feel
excerpt from “Panthea,” by Oscar Wilde
We are resolved into the supreme air,
We are made one with what we touch and see,
With our heart's blood each crimson sun is fair,
With our young lives each spring-impassioned tree
Flames into green, the wildest beasts that range
The moor our kinsmen are, all life is one, and all is change.
With beat of systole and of diastole
One grand great life throbs through earth's giant heart,
And mighty waves of single Being roll
From nerveless germ to man, for we are part
Of every rock and bird and beast and hill,
One with the things that prey on us, and one with what we kill….
Not we alone hath passions hymeneal,
The yellow buttercups that shake for mirth
At daybreak know a pleasure not less real
Than we do, when in some fresh-blossoming wood,
We draw the spring into our hearts, and feel that life is good….
Is the light vanished from our golden sun,
Or is this daedal-fashioned earth less fair,
That we are nature's heritors, and one
With every pulse of life that beats the air?
Rather new suns across the sky shall pass,
New splendour come unto the flower, new glory to the grass.
And we two lovers shall not sit afar,
Critics of nature, but the joyous sea
Shall be our raiment, and the bearded star
Shoot arrows at our pleasure! We shall be
Part of the mighty universal whole,
And through all aeons mix and mingle with the Kosmic Soul!
We shall be notes in that great Symphony
Whose cadence circles through the rhythmic spheres,
And all the live World's throbbing heart shall be
One with our heart; the stealthy creeping years
Have lost their terrors now, we shall not die,
The Universe itself shall be our Immortality.
Well, call it old-fashioned, but I call it awesome.
From the library, we went over to Bookworm Gardens. This lovely children’s garden is built around the idea of various story books. There, we invited poets and audience members to share a favorite poem in the intimate, outdoor amphitheater. Our turnout was small, but the families who came really enjoyed it. There were definite sparkles in the eyes of our young audience members. That is all I wanted to see.
We then encamped ourselves in a local coffee shop called Paradigm. There, we had a small but mighty writing workshop led by Chuck Rybak of Green Bay. Then, poet Cathryn Cofell performed her poetry with the music of Obvious Dog. Finally, we ended the last several hours of the event with an open mic. We had about 15 people share their work. It was an incredible day. And this year, it is going to be even better. I am working with a newly-forming peace group in town. The message: Even when we don’t agree, we need to find ways to communicate with each other. As one friend at the meeting shared: “Truth is the place where opposites find the thing they share in common.” That may become the tagline for Sheboygan’s 100TPC 2012. We shall see!