“You will come to understand only when you stand in the same gap with me.”
—Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey, The Tale of an Orphan
I begin this week of blogging high on the fuel that comes from spending a week with 80-plus dynamic and diverse poets from all over the world. We came together in the name of 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC), a movement founded in 2011 in Guerneville, California by poets Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion. The purpose of 100TPC is to harness the power of poetry, music, and the arts to build community and create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. This gathering—our group’s first world conference—took place from June 3 to June 8 in Salerno, Italy, the birthplace of Italian poet, Alfonso Gatto.
I begin this first post with the words of a new friend, a young man with an old soul, Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey from Accra, Ghana. His book,The Tale of an Orphan, has grabbed me by the heart. Orphaned at age five, Richard nonetheless found his way to obtain an education and to overcome loss and despair. His story chronicles the many challenges he has faced growing up into the writer that he is, and his positivity is contagious. Standing with him, standing with the others, I am able to see this world in which we live with newly evolving eyes.
We came from Australia, Canada, The Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, India, Ireland, Kosovo, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, The Netherlands, Nigeria, and Serbia. American poets came from: Baltimore, MD, Calexico, CA, Chicago, IL, Claremont, CA, Columbia, MD, Decatur, GA, Ellicott City, MD, Guerneville, CA, Kansas City, MO, Larchmont, NY, Los Angeles, CA, New Orleans, LA, Princeton, NJ, Rochester, NY, Sacramento, CA, San Francisco, CA, San Luis Obispo, CA, St. Louis, MO, Venice, CA, Waco, TX. And yours truly from Sheboygan, WI. If I forgot anyone's point of origin, forgive me. Let me know and I'll correct the record.
In Salerno, our days were filled with round table discussions on The Poetics of the Feminine, The Oral Tradition, Art and Activism, Growing the Movement, and Building a Sustainable Community. Our nights were filled with scheduled readings, open mics, poetry in the streets, and of course music, dancing, great food, and lots of red wine and limoncello. There were intense large group conversations and quiet one-on-ones. As poet Graffiti Bleu of Sacramento, CA put it so well, “Beyond the midnight open mics, round table discussions, politics, guerilla street poetry, wine & song... there were conversations & exchanges of wisdom that meant more to me than anything else.”
I got back to the U.S. four days ago (I had an amazing power layover in Dublin and then decompressed for three days in Chicago) and I am still a bit jet-lagged, honestly. Last night was my first night home in my own bed. I slept soundly and dreamed the dream of one who is weary from the road. I am still absorbing all that transpired in the upper room of Santa Sofia and down in the cobblestone streets of the city.
In Salerno, I experienced poetry as spoken word, as the harbinger of change, as a call to protest and a call to community. All this will continue to wash over me for a long time to come. This week, as I search for a new "day job," I plan to mull over what I have recently learned at my "night job," my poet-job. I will make sense of these new threads woven into the fabric of my world, my writing, my “me.”
I will stand in the gap with you between birth and death, between dream and waking, between past and future. I will stand in the gap with you and I promise I will have more to share with you tomorrow.