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The Commons
The Arts

Wanted: 100,000 poets for change

Verandah Porche plans creative gathering at River Garden as part of international undertaking

Originally published in The Commons issue #119 (Wednesday, September 21, 2011).



BRATTLEBORO—Guilford poet Verandah Porche and singer/songwriter Patty Carpenter have joined forces to create a song about the impact of the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

“Waves in the Wind” is a meditation on the havoc wreaked on the Vermont landscape. But it is also about resilience and hope.

Porche and Carpenter will premiere their song Saturday, Sept. 24, at the River Garden on Main Street, where they will be part of 100,000 Poets for Change, a worldwide event described as the largest worldwide poetry reading in history.

Porche invites the community to join with them at this free event from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and celebrate “the solidarity of worldwide words and resilience of our state in the wake of Irene by sharing an original poem, a chanson, a piece of music, a chant, a rant, or an incantation.”

The song vividly describes iconic regional scenes from the disaster: “Did you catch on YouTube: covered bridge went down/ Horse-and-rider brave the water to get medicine to town.”

Yet the song also suggests that this local tragedy might be the direct result of something larger changing the planet, global warming. “Waves in the Wind” also describes Vermonters’ faith in their communities and love of their land.

Porche quotes a local farmer who lost everything in the flood but still could express her commitment to where she lives: “Friends ’n strangers gather tryin’ to fix the harm/ It’s a funny thing to say, ‘This is the best place to lose your farm.’”

With the support of Write Action, Verandah Porche is pleased to sponsor 100,000 Poets for Change in Brattleboro.

The international poetry gathering will include more than 600 events in 450 cities, towns and hamlets in 95 countries.

On Sept. 24, all over the planet, lovers of language will gather “to read poems, sing songs, raise awareness, and metaphorically join hands to create a new dialogue for peace, social justice and sustainability.“

All the projects will be archived by Stanford University.

Local meets global

The event was the brainchild of West Coast writer Michael Rothenberg, who had become despondent seeing all the people he knew feeling so disempowered as they faced the many trials afflicting the planet.

Porche explains that “while sulking in the redwood forest, Rothenberg came to realize what he had always believed: the power of words.”

From that epiphany, he envisioned a public union of writers all over the globe dedicated to social change.

“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,” Rothenberg explains.

“This will change how we see our local community and the global community. We have all become incredibly alienated in recent years,” he added.

“We hardly know our neighbors down the street let alone our creative allies who live and share our concerns in other countries,” Rothenberg said. “We need to feel this kind of global solidarity. I think it will be empowering.”

Poetry for change

Verandah Porche has long dedicated herself to utilizing the power of poetry for change.

According to her Wikipedia biography: “During the past 30 years, she has traveled from her home in rural Vermont, writing with and for people in Grange halls and garages, elementary schools and elder hostels, nursing homes and day-care centers, mansions and soup kitchens, board rooms and basements, homes and jails, literacy programs and colleges.”

She was an obvious person to organize the local chapter of 100,000 Poets for Change, but last spring she was disheartened how few people she could get interested.

Only now, she said, after the recent southern Vermont traumas of fire, flood, and two killings, was she able to convince writers of the importance of using language to change lives.

Detail and specificity

Porche wants to invite not merely established writers to the event, but also amateur poets and those who have never written anything but want to express themselves.

She is providing space at River Garden for would-be writers to try their hand at composing a poem. Several poets will be staffing a table to work with them, providing paper, pencils, and even templates for writing poems.

The event has no quality control, she said, and young and old alike are encouraged to come.

The most important thing Porche hopes to teach new poets is that the art of poetry is all about detail and specificity.

“I don’t like loosey-goosey stuff, like ‘Oh, Mother Nature, I’m so sorry, blah, blah, blah.’ That’s just a lot of nothing,” she said.

Porche believes that words are attached to deeds, and poetry can “come to the rescue” as a potent “answer to the shallow lies of manufactured targeted disinformation.”

100,000 Poets for Change is a place to begin.

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