Poetry is something many of us seem to be hungry for these days. We're hungry for fresh ways to tell hard truths and redemptive stories, for language that would elevate and embolden rather than demean and alienate. Elizabeth Alexander shares her sense of what poetry works in us — and in our children — and why it may become more relevant, not less so, in hard and complicated times.
The late Irish poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue, is beloved for his book Anam Ċara, Gaelic for "soul friend," and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. In one of his last interviews before his death in 2008, he articulated a Celtic imagination about how the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible worlds intertwine in human experience.
The 13th-century Muslim mystic and poet Rumi has long shaped Muslims around the world and has now become popular in the West. Rumi created a new language of love within the Islamic mystical tradition of Sufism. We hear his poetry as we delve into his world and listen for its echoes in our own.
What happens when people transcend violence while living in it? John Paul Lederach has spent three decades mediating peace and change in 25 countries — from Nepal to Colombia and Sierra Leone. He shifts the language and lens of the very notion of conflict resolution. He says, for example, that enduring progress takes root not with large numbers of people, but with relationships between unlikely people.
Sixteen Muslims, in their own words, speak about the delights and gravity of Islam's holiest month. Through vivid memories and light-hearted musings, they reveal the richness of Ramadan — as a period of intimacy, and of parties; of getting up when the world is quiet for breakfast and prayers with one's family; of breaking the fast every day after nightfall in celebration and prayers with friends and strangers.
With an Argentinean scientist, we explore the human landscape of forensic sciences and its emergence as a tool for human rights. Doretti has unearthed bones and stories of the dead and "the disappeared" in more than 30 countries, including victims of Argentina's Dirty War, over two decades. She shares her perspective on reparation, the need to bury our dead, and the many facets of justice.
How we see the world is how we value it, says Ellen Davis. And poetry is a way to rediscover the lost art of being creatures. An hour of learning and slowing down, with the "Mad Farmer" poems of Wendell Berry and a new way to take in the "poetry" of Genesis.
Richard Rorty's lament reminds us of the solace of poetry.
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor