My reading of Clare's vowelless letter at the launch for Barbaric Vast & Wild: Poems for the Millennium Vol. V, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman, at The Poetry Project, Oct. 14, 2015.
At my graduate seminar at the University of Pennsylvania the other night, one of the students made a point that is very often made, expressing an anxiety that poetry is luxury for those with time and learning. I thought of Audre Lord’s great essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Indeed, those who feel they have enough – money, material satisfaction, knowledge – are likely to think that poetry is not necessary: it doesn’t contribute to economic growth, offers no immediate solutions to poverty or climate change, can’t stop political violence or bring about more just societies. W.H. Auden famously wrote “Poetry makes nothing happen.” I take that nothing to be the same place Emily Dickinson invokes when she writes that “no” is the wildest word we consign to language. Poetry is both a wilderness and a desert, the same one the ancient Isrealites wandered in Exodus. And it is just such deserts or wildernesses, such sites of blank or emptiness or nothing, that we have a place for exchange across what otherwise might seem insurmountable borders, as between our two complex and rich cultures of China and the Americas.
I regret I cannot be in Jinan for the Fourth CAAP Convention – the fifth convention to bring together Chinese scholars and teachers who are engaged with poetry and poetics and the exchange between American and Chinese scholars and poets.