Poetry of Resilience — A Film and 6 Poets
James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games, speaks about the role of poets in society. He speaks with a disturbing eloquence even, of how they carry our hope for the future; they are consummate players of infinite games, playing with boundaries as they do. I reported on a presentation of his worth listening to in, Resiliency as a Game.
Poetry of Resilience, a film in progress, provides moving evidence of this power of poetry to carry and inspire our hopes for the future, to stretch us beyond conceived boundaries. Here is Yasuhiko Shigemoto speaking, a Hiroshima survivor:
“After A-bomb dropping
all the trees and grass were burned.
In the atomic ruins
one tree sprouted.
Green, green leaves.
People were encouraged
“Poetry of Resilience is a feature-length documentary by Academy Award® nominated director Katja Esson about survivors who endured war, genocide and political persecution and turned to poetry to help them survive. From Rwanda, Japan, China, Iran, Poland and Iraqi Kurdistan and into exile in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, the film follows six stories of survival, six poets and one shared question: How strong is the human spirit?…
In September, 2006, 13 extraordinary men and women from such diverse countries as Rwanda, Japan, Poland, Kurdistan, Vietnam, Iran, and China gathered at a conference at the Guthrie Center in small town Massachusetts. They met because they have two things in common: they survived some of the greatest atrocities of modern history, and they are poets. At the conference they came together for the first time ever to talk, not about the horrors they endured, but about the resilience of the human spirit.”
The film “traces the lives of six of these poets who collectively survived Hiroshima, the Holocaust, China’s Cultural Revolution under Mao, Saddam’s Gas Attacks on the Kurds, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Iranian Revolution. The film reveals these survivors’ personal stories and examines how each one first discovered – and then used – poetry to distill his or her experiences into an image, a memory, an idea….
As we follow these survivors into their past and listen to accounts of their present lives, we find that resilience means something different to each. Whether they write to witness, to remember, to take revenge, to forgive, to curse, in every case poetry helped their spirits rebound into life.
Majid Nafici, who fought the Shah in Iran and then witnessed the killing of his family by the Ayatollah Khomeini, offers the way he has found to go on.
“Artistic creativity,” he says, “is the only thing left to you as a survivor.”
Poetry of Resilience follows these poets to the heart of the mystery of human endurance by asking: What is the resilience of the spirit? How does poetry, as a deeply felt yet ineffable expression of our common humanity, help transform lives? And what can the rest of us learn from their remarkable stories? Giving voice to survivors of genocide, war and political violence, the film serves as an intense, provocative meditation on the creativity and dynamism of humanity.”
You can also read, hear or watch more of Lee on a PBS Newshour poetry series here.
Self-Help for Fellow Refugees
If your name suggests a country where bells
might have been used for entertainment,
or to announce the entrances and exits of the seasons,
or the birthdays of gods and demons,
its probably best to dress in plain clothes
when you arrive in the United States,
and try not to talk too loud.
If you happen to have watched armed men
beat and drag your father
out the front door of your house
and into the back of an idling truck
before your mother jerked you from the threshold
and buried your face in her skirt folds,
try not to judge your mother too harshly.
Don’t ask her what she thought she was doing
turning a child’s eyes
away from history.
Maybe there was too much screaming
and weeping and the noise of guns in the streets.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is this:
The kingdom of heaven is good.
But heaven on earth is better.
Thinking is good.
But living is better.
Alone in your favorite chair
with a book you enjoy
is fine. But spooning
is even better.
– Li-Young Lee, on PBS Newshour Poetry Series