Poetry and Public Life—Writing as Witness

Carolyne Wright, © Jim Parrott 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Carolyne Wright, © Jim Parrott 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.
 Carolyne Wright, © Jim Parrott 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Carolyne Wright, © Jim Parrott 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Poet Carolyne Wright is offering a Workshop and Reading as part of her 2013 Individual Artist Project, at Jack Straw Productions on Saturday, October 4. We welcome Carolyne to the blog.

Poetry and Public Life — Writing as Witness

October 4, 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
The Raven Chronicles at Jack Straw Productions
4261 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105

As a poet, I have often heard that “poetry makes nothing happen”; but I have also heard that poetry can be a force for good in the world, and that poets are the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Which message is more true? In the course of pursuing my own dreams as a literary artist and Seattle native who had an urge to explore and discover in the far fields of culture, I have lived and traveled in many parts of the world—Chile during the presidency of Salvador Allende, Brazil during Carnaval overshadowed by military dictatorship, Calcutta during India’s time as a non-aligned country, when Mother Teresa was probably the best-known resident of the city, and Bangladesh during the transition from military dictatorship to an energetic and tumultuous democracy. In all of these countries and cultures, in the languages that communicate these cultures (Chilean Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Bengali) poetry is a highly esteemed art form, and poets are regarded with great respect and affection, including women poets. In India and Bangladesh, I was thrilled to share my work with Bengali poets, and to translate the poetry of Bengali women to English. I saw how poetry played a vital role in the public lives of people in these countries—on marches and in classrooms, on the page and on the stage, to inspire to greater freedom on the spiritual and civic levels.

Therefore, when I had the opportunity last year to apply for and receive a 4Culture Individual Artist Fellowship, I began work on “Mother-of-Pearl Women,” a sequence featuring inter-cultural encounters with girls and women. This sequence will form one section of a book of poetry in progress, This Dream the World—a book confronting family and national history, the interaction of the personal sphere and the larger public arena, to be published by Lost Horse Press. I have read from these poems in venues throughout King County—libraries, cultural centers, recording studios, and bookstores–and conducted workshops on poetry and public life, writing as witness, literary mentorship, and poetry as narrative. And one small poem in this sequence will be featured on 4Culture’s Poetry on Buses web site and on placards in metro transit buses and/or bus stops!

One of the final events in which I will share work from this project during the grant period is a workshop and reading at Jack Straw Productions in Seattle, “Poetry and Public Life—Writing as Witness.” I know that as poets and writers, we in the U.S. might not consider our work as a public act. For months we struggle to craft a poem or story or essay; and then, with luck, it ends up in a literary journal with a tiny circulation. Yet as I learned in my years abroad, poetry has always been a mode of truth-telling — even more so now, given the conditions of political, social, environmental and ethical extremity that prevail in this new millennium.

The questions I bring to this forum are: how may we reach into the life of our greater human community, the larger public forum, with poems and stories? What does it mean to connect our writing to our public lives as citizens — to working for cultural, social, political, and environmental change as well as inner transformation? How may creative writing function as an ethical and political, as well as an aesthetic endeavor, in an interconnected, rapidly changing global society?

In this workshop co-sponsored by Raven Chronicles, with support from Poets & Writers and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, we’ll look at the work and lives of some poets (Carolyn Forché, Patricia Smith, Lois Red Elk, Taslima Nasrin, Naomi Shihab Nye) who have managed a larger public presence and contribution from within intensely committed writing lives, do some hands-on mapping of our own writing lives within our communities, and discuss new ways that writing can bear witness in the world.

This workshop is $15.00, and class size is limited. Email your intent to register with subject line: C. Wright Workshop.
For more information call 206.941.2955.