Hiking in the redwood forests six months ago, bay area writer Michael Rothenberg was suddenly struck by a desire to use the power of words to unite artists and communities around the world. That desire grew to become 100,000 Poets for Change, a massive undertaking that, today, will feature more than 600 poetry events in 95 countries. It bills itself as the largest poetry event in history, and from the look of it, it's hard to argue against that.
Rothenberg and fellow organizer Terri Carrion laid out their vision in a letter on the event website:
"The first order of change is for poets, writers, artists, anybody, to actually get together to create and perform, educate and demonstrate, simultaneously, with other communities around the world. This will change how we see our local community and the global community. We have all become incredibly alienated in recent years. We hardly know our neighbors down the street let alone our creative allies who live and share our concerns in other countries. We need to feel this kind of global solidarity. I think it will be empowering."
The pair grew the event by taking a simultaneously broad and local approach. Rather than choosing a specific cause, they asked organizers to design events that reflect the concerns of their communities, within broad themes like "peace, sustainability, justice, equality, or more specific causes like Health Care, or Freedom of Speech, or local environmental or social concerns." The result is a rather remarkable collage.
Poets in Mumbai today will celebrate the fading culture of local Adivasi tribes with verse and songs; poets in Terelj, Mongolia will remember the work of local poet R. Choinom, who died as a victim of the country's old socialist regime; and a group in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo will hold a poetry slam. The United States alone will host more than 250 events today. Mexico will host more than thirty. Groups will even host events in war-torn Kabul and Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
And it's clear, visiting the event website, that Rothenberg's efforts were bringing artists together even before the event. A featured video on the website is a collaboration by a man in Nashville and another in Nigeria, and the community poetry wall really reads like a global community. Visitors can watch live web streams from many of the events around the world. Another page lets you follow the local press coverage.
Reading down the website's seemingly endless list of events, as it ticks off happenings in Barranquilla, Colombia; Patras, Greece; and Sharjah in the UAE, you can't helped but be impressed, not just by the success of Rothenberg's efforts, but by the truly global desire to get involved. Today will demonstrate that Rothenberg's feeling in the woods is one that's shared by artists and communities everywhere.