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Reading Poetry For Peace

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By Lisa Schumaier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday April 24, 2003

There is always more to be said than what we are hearing. Tom Brokaw reads cue cards a little too well. The second he is off-air, Walter Cronkite probably mutters a definitive statement in opposition of whatever he just reported to an entire nation. Relying on reporters and the news to tell us "the facts" on war seems crucial, but insufficient at the same time. It is unnatural not to hear people's opinions and emotions in a time of intense fighting.

The poet community of Tucson has mobilized in the hope of creating a greater collectivity of thought. Poets for Peace is comprised by numerous local writers, faculty and graduate students. Saturday night at Bentley's House of Coffee, these activists will gather to read poems they have written in response to the current conflict.

Gillian Jerome and her partner, Brad Cran, are two of the graduates that started Poets for Peace. In the introduction to the chapbook, Cran wrote, "It is easy to be silent in a time of war. It is easy to accept the common rhetoric of the day and feel suffocated by the obvious pain of soldiers and civilians who are experiencing violence we have never tolerated in our own lives. If we allow ourselves to be overcome then we miss the opportunity to build a foundation for a larger message."

"I have a 16-month-old and I am also a teacher of rhetoric, so my ears have been very tuned to all the rhetoric surrounding the war even before it began. The idea came from a graduate class that felt frustrated about the impact the war would have on innocent people, especially children. As a mother, this is a time when I need to take action," Jerome said.

"I was listening to Democracy Now on NPR. This woman who has been in Iraq working in hospitals for the past 12 years made it really clear that this war is really tragic, but tens of thousands of kids have died here just because of the sanctions imposed since Desert Storm. This is a war on children. It is not how it is portrayed, but that is the end result. It is important to remain galvanized even after the war has faded from the headlines, because the younger generation of Iraq has been betrayed by the most powerful and elite around the world."

Poets for Peace has composed an anthology, which they will sell at the reading. All proceeds from the reading and anthology go to the United Nations Children's Fund to help the children that have been victims of war in Iraq. The United Nations Association of Arizona will match every dollar given to the cause.

"I want people to leave having given five bucks to help the children in Iraq with the sense that it isn't too late to speak your conscience if you don't believe that violent acts should solve particular problems. Even if it seems futile, we need to keep articulating that there are other ways to solve problems," Deming said.

"When they asked me if Bentley's would host the event, without any hesitation I said yes.' I believe that people need a place to gather," said Jo Anne Schneider, owner of Bentley's.

"It is a comfortable atmosphere for people to get up and stage their opinion to a receptive audience. People that come to coffee shops tend to be very sympathetic to their thoughts. Coffee houses are notorious for that as far back as the 1960s. I am really grateful to be a part of it."

However, Schneider was slightly worried that the parking lot of the coffee shop might be the stage of protests.

"It's about peace and I believe you should only come if you're a supporter, first of all. Any time that anyone feels strongly about situations that feel out of control, it's comforting to be surrounded by people who feel the same way as you do."

One poet who agrees is Cat Bohannon, graduate student in poetry. As the recent co-winner of the American Academy of Poets Award, she will be reading various pieces Saturday.

"I think it's going to be fabulous. There are so many points of view and it will draw people out from the community who want to express their support for all human life: soldiers, children, Iraqis, Americans, British, Australian and all the people involved. War by its nature is not subsisting of life so we have to limit the damage we can do. The best thing on the homefront that we can do is support human life,'' Bohannon said.

"It would be great if people got a pretty diverse point of view from the poetic community and felt a little more a part of a community, instead of sitting in a room alone having an opinion, but to hear others' (opinions) about it. It would be fantastic if they went home, went to the library, got on their computers and found out as much as they could about what is going on right now. This seems like the most responsible thing we can do as citizens stay abreast with the war and have opinions about it and be educated about those opinions."

For more information call Bentley's at 795-0338. If you cannot attend but would like to make a donation, send check to: Poets for Peace, c/o UN Centre UNICEF, 2911 East Grant Rd., Tucson, AZ, 85719


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