Poetry in Divisive Times

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In the wake of rising authoritarianism in the US, and isolationism here in the UK, I have found it hard to sit down and write poetry. Clearly this seems to be a time for action more than words.

Revisiting an essay from 2007, written in the wake of US censorship of Iranian poetry, I began to re-formulate and re-work some thoughts from this piece into an argument with and for myself about why creative acts still matter.

You can read the results in a new short piece on The Huffington Post. I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

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Ulrich Mühe: Ihre Mühen Sind Uber

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German actor Ulrich Mühe passed away last weekend due to stomach cancer at the age of 54. His performance in The Lives of Others had a profound impact on my renewed understanding of the importance of art in difficult times. His life off-stage and off-camera seems to have been equally fraught with troubles, as he believed one of his wives to have been a Stasi informant not unlike Martina Gedeck’s character in the film. Perhaps in part due to the immense personal history he brought to the role, the believable humanization of Captain Gerd Weisler may well be the role for which Mr. Mühe will be best remembered internationally.

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Why Poetry Matters Now

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“Poets and intellectuals — who are paid little, and who are usually ignored by the general population — have this consolation, at least: they are the ones the tyrants go after first.”
-Frederick Smock, “Poetry & Compassion”

“If I keep listening to it, I won’t finish the revolution.”
-Lenin, regarding Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata
  (as recounted in “The Lives Of Others”)

I read Frederick Smock‘s article, “Poetry & Compassion,” in the February issue of The Writer’s Chronicle just before going to see the German film “The Lives Of Others.” Thought is the pairing of different experiences together into new understandings and relationships. The insights issuing forth from pairing these two profound experiences together have propelled me toward a deeper understanding of the power, purpose, and significance of poetry.

It all began with this: according to Smock, “The U.S. Treasury Department — which, among other things, handles cases of treason — recently warned American publishers against translating poetry from Iran. Such translations, they avowed, would be considered ‘trading with the enemy,’ and would be punishable by fines and jail time.” Since World War Two, strong cryptographic algorithms have been classified as munitions and banned from export outside the U.S. Why, going further, would the import of a different intellectual commodity with seemingly far less practical application be considered treasonous? Why ban poetry?
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