Back in September I put a headline on the front page of our website linked to an article about the International Poetry Festival in Medellin Columbia, winner of the 2006 Alternative Nobel Prize. Now in its sixteenth year, it is an event that fills stadiums for its most popular poets, who come from all over the world. The origins of the festival are in the attempts of ordinary people living in extraordinarily difficult conditions, who wanted to take the streets back for other ordinary people. They began to break the military curfew with poetry readings in the streets. That simple act has transformed Medellin, at least once a year, into a destination.
Many people have asked me why we opened a poetry caf?. Of course even before there was a Listen & Be Heard Poetry Cafe?, many of the folks I have encountered in life have questioned why I would devote so much of my time to writing and performing poetry in public places. The idea even, of reciting poetry is open to question in today’s America. It must either be a throwback to classical times, or the beats, or it must be some of that rap stuff.
Every Friday night during the open mic that Tony and I host at the cafe?, Tony always reminds people that it’s a place and time to shed pretensions, anxieties and external pressures and just listen and be heard. Whether carefully crafted, improvised, rough around the edges, spiritual or bawdy, a good poem is like a good joke, there’s honesty and truth at the core of its meaning. The joke is on the man or woman who insists on holding on to worn out ways of thinking and acting, who stiffens up instead of laughing, or lashes out instead of crying.
There is a lesson for Vallejo in Medellin, for those who want to do their homework. Vallejo, home of countless bluesmen and women, poets and painters and rappers and ordinary people like you and me. We are as much of a destination as any other point on the globe. We own as much of the truth as anyone else. We can listen and be heard at any time and any place. The lesson for me is to keep on keeping on. It’s to work hard to make Listen & Be Heard’s 5th Annual Poetry Marathon in 2007, the biggest one yet, and to encourage every one of you reading this article to get involved in it too. You can call the office at 707-554-4840, or send an e-mail to volunteer some time and effort. Whether you live in Vallejo or South Africa or Singapore or London, poetry connects us all to the larger and grander meaning of life that will carry us all forward. We can make physical connections too. This internet thing is only the beginning toward reaching out to create something real and lasting.
Of course you don’t need us. You can make any corner, any grocery line, any park, a stage for truth and meaning and love. A few years ago a few million people around the world marched for Peace. In a few more years millions of poets will take to the streets and we will be unstoppable.