PILAR RODRÍGUEZ ARANDA
When I saw Michael Rothenberg’s invitation, posted by City Lights Bookstore in Facebook, to be part of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, it seemed to me a natural thing to do, as a poet and an activist who had just organized a similar event in terms of parallel actions happening on the same timeframe, in different cities in the world. I also knew I could count on a basic group of collaborators and friends, who, even though not all of them were poets, would be interested and supportive. So, I wrote Michael and said I wanted to be part of it, and ended coordinating Mexico City, as well as setting up the blog for most of the poetic actions around the country.
I met with the collective I am a member of, and started brainstorming about what we could do. Just like before, I used the social networks and email to start spreading the idea. I ended being very close to Michael because I helped him with the Spanish translations of letters and notices for 100 TPC. I imagine he is this way with everyone else, and that is part of the success of his and any effort, he is able to befriend and inspire others with his vision.
Some things happened very organically, like when I saw that the organization Cooperativa Tzikbal was inviting others to be part of the global movement Eradicate Ecocide! They were planning to have an event in downtown Mexico City on the same day as 100TPC, so I contacted the organizers and proposed them to join forces, considering that our themes coincided, and so, we did.
On Saturday 24th, [In] the morning, their group and ours, ecologists and poets together walked through a pedestrian street from the Zócalo (Mexico City’s main plaza) to the Bellas Artes Hall Esplanade; we stopped at certain corners and shared our poetry and bookmarks with those passing by, while members of the coop, dressed as scientists, did their part with the pedestrians sharing info about the international Movement for Ecocide becoming a Crime against Peace. Once in Bellas Artes, the poets and performers stayed on one side of the esplanade, and continued the readings till after 2 in the afternoon.
That very same night, we had an open mic at their place in the Southern section of the city. After a very long, intense and noisy day in downtown, it was truly pleasant to sit down and let the adrenaline calm down, while listening to 3 hours of a great variety of voices. The first readers were students who shared their favorite poets, then came original texts.
I will always remember fondly when a man stepped forward who said he had never done “this” before, which either meant reading in public, or at an open mic, but then he added, he hadn’t written in 15 years! Another young man shared the prologue to his thesis, which was actually quite poetic, and both experiences showed me that there is a need to orally share our thoughts, and just as it works for kids in college, it is good for everyone to have time for “shared reading”, where we get to listen and we also get to read. A communal experience where words are the healing glue and not a “power tool”.
Another great experience, which brought me closer to many of the poets, was to watch these extremely young talents (most of them in their twenties) organize, invite and inspire others. Examples abound, but I would like to mention 3 or 4 of them.
Karloz Atl, an incredible performer and improviser, felt that doing a poetic action in the streets was something he already did almost every day, and decided then to have a parallel showing of a documentary on the Mexican Street Poetry scene. Showings were planned for the 24th, at 5 pm, in 5 or 6 cities. At the end not all the cities did it, and the schedules changed, but what was wonderful was that each venue, not only showed the video, but planned a whole afternoon of events: in Tlalnepantla the poets started walking around the main plaza, using a megaphone to invite everyone to come to the “Casa del Poeta”, where they had poetry and music all evening; in Cuernavaca poems were hung up in the streets, and there were public readings in the streets as well.
Edwing Roldán had one of the most original proposals, to do an online “Poetic Dialog”, working on ways to read a specific text with people in other cities or areas of Mexico City itself, and because of this distance of the participants, the way to share and dialog would be using youtube and/or skype. From that particular experience, Adrián Esparza in Guadalajara created a show called “Cae Altazor”, which was one of the actions for 100TPC in that city. I went to one of the sessions, which took place at UNAM, in the outside area known as “the islands”, and took photos and filmed video of the workshop. I enjoyed it very much, and presently he and I are now collaborating on group we call Poesía Expuesta (Exposed Poetry), and we’ll be collaborating with Adrian and others in 100TPC 2012.
Elia Bartolache was one of the most enthusiastic, continually posting comments and sharing videos and photos in FB. The action she organized was one of the best attended and documented events, with break dancers, hip hop musicians and poets spending an afternoon in Tlahuac (SW Mexico City) where the main focus was peace. The music in the video for 100 Mil Poetas por el Cambio México 2011 (http://youtu.be/xP40mPYH8m4) was composed and recorded by some of these young artists (“Libres Pensadores”, or Free Thinkers).
Finally, I do have to mention one of the most popular actions, which was Carmen Saavedra’s, “I verse you, I kiss you”. She and a group of close to 10 poets set up camp in Bellas Artes as well, and listened to people’s stories giving them poems and a kiss in return. There were many other actions, and they are all described in both sites, some did a better job documenting it, some had greater attendance and audience participation. Some poets attended and read at 2 or 3 different events! We felt we were all part of something larger than ourselves.
There was one “virtual” action that was promoted by el Colectivo Contra la Violencia, el Arte, a call to write “poetuits” (or poem-tweets). The response especially on September 24th was actually great with hundreds of responses, and many wonderful examples. Here are some of them (my translations):
@el_raze #100milpoetas Today, my pen has white ink. #paz
The pain in these deaths makes no poetry; the hope of “no more” does... #100milpoetas
To imagine a better world is to already start changing it. #100milpoetas
@jillanderso #100milpoetas... And she told me that my thoughts fly like a 100 butterflies or 100 bees tickling 100 people around me.
Today, poetry is subversive! It fights fear, it crushes forgetfulness #100milpoetas @magosnj
You can read a selection made by Zazil Collins, poet and collective member in our site. Her introduction is written in Spanish as all the poetuits are, but allow me to translate Zazil’s closing paragraph:
A high percentage of these “poem-tweets” try to signify and turn poetry into metaphor. So, we will find an eagerness to understand what is essential to both the individual and community life of a human being, -as @Jessyalgomas retakes, that which through art “creates [because], hate destroys” -. After all, the actions were about showing motivations to exercise an ethical life. These ‘poem-tweets’ are dedicated to those fallen, those whose kisses have been stolen.
Zazil’s reference to the fallen, to those dead or who have disappeared in the last 5 years in Mexico, was a constant in all of the actions, in all of the cities. Some actions were tiny, with maybe 4 or 5 poets, or with none, like in Mazatlán, where they focused on the children, who were invited to paint their idea of a better city, while poetry was being read to them. Others, like the one in Ciudad Juárez, the most violent city in the world, and next door to the USA, received the most press; the organizers, again, were not poets, but a group of women activists and teachers. They walked and hung poems and other poetic expressions in one of the city’s main avenues and ended there event with a poetic demonstration before the US Consulate. The best was when I visited Ciudad Juarez about a month later and these women shared that they hadn’t read so much poetry in their lives and had loved every minute of it.
When Michael asked me if I would do 100TPC again, I had to be highly critical of what this whole “change” business meant. I had been questioned once already and had answered vaguely, saying each one needed to look within, and decide what he or she or they needed to change, and do it! 100TPC gave me so much, my world is so much wider now. I am working very close with these young poets, who have been doing/reading/performing poetry in the streets for years now. I am being published in the same anthologies and performing in the same Slams as they are, and that makes me feel so very alive, young, excited and part of a community. However, I do not want 100TPC to be something I do for me. I told Michael I would do it again, and I told those who are in it with me, that I felt the “poetic actions” needed to be less poetic and more action. So, what some of us are hoping to do is to have some kind of (poetic) impact among teenagers.
I feel that 100TPC is about Poetry as the pretext and the text itself, the media and the cause, the source and the end. Whenever I was invited to the radio, and luckily it was quite a few times thanks to the active involvement of the Citizen Radio station manager Adriana Solórzano, and 2 of their producers and voices, María Teresa Juárez and Sandra Vázquez, I always tried to emphasize that 100 Mil Poetas por el Cambio was not about the poets, but about LA POESÍA as a common language, a signal, a mirror and maybe an instruction manual towards change, for poets, as well as for readers/listeners, and, for the vibrational energy of the universe. It is about Poetry as a means to chant, to murmur, to scream, to denounce, to share traumatic, violent, loving, and/or unique experiences, and, if words are the means, and we are headed towards change, we do need to ponder on the words we choose to use. I believe we are what we speak, just as we are what we eat, or what we think. I believe we can change what we say. I believe we can imagine, express, write and create a better version of ourselves and the world.
Pilar Rodríguez Aranda,
Mexico city, Mexico
[Reprinted by permission. See "Pirene's Fountain: 100 Thousand Poets for Change," Larry Sawyer (ed), http://www.pirenesfountain.com/100tpc.html.]