Today we’re not going to look at a poem by a famous poet. Yesterday I went on the TED Talks website again, because this speech called “Poetry that frees the soul” had caught my eye. Please take 12-something minutes of your time and listen to Cristina Domenech talk about what it was like teaching inmates in Argentina how to read and write poetry, and how these workshops changed both their lives as well as her own.
“It’s said that to be a poet, you have to go to hell and back.” Cristina Domenech teaches writing at an Argentinian prison, and she tells the moving story of helping incarcerated people express themselves, understand themselves — and glory in the freedom of language. Watch for a powerful reading from one of her students, an inmate, in front of an audience of 10,000. In Spanish with subtitles.
I teared up when Martín Bustamente read his poem to the crowd, which I interpreted as a testimony to Domenech; it was his way of saying thank you. Stories such as this one attests to my belief that poetry isn’t privilege, it’s not something reserved for scholars and college graduates. Anyone can write poetry, anyone can learn the skill.
It also shows the power of language; there’s something wonderfully strange in creating something of your own that makes one feel more confident, stronger, smarter. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from sitting down nearly every day to write is that there’s empowerment in creation. No matter how crazy my life gets sometimes, no matter how stressful, working on this story makes me feel like at least there’s a fraction of my life where I have complete control. Yes, I get frustrated sometimes by the slow process of finishing this novel, but essentially I know what I’m doing and if something needs to revised/edited/changed, I can fix it.
Considering that I’m a comfortable environment – the dorms here in the middle of Michigan – imagine what composing and reading poetry does for someone with a lot less freedom and independence. In this case, poetry has been a gift to these men. I’m glad that there are people like Domenech, who dedicates so much time, effort and love to people that have been written off by society at large.
The heart chews tears of time;
blinded by that light,
it hides the speed of existence
where the images go rowing by.
It fights, it hangs on.
The heart cracks under sad gazes,
rides on storms that spread fire,
lifts chests lowered by shame,
knows that it’s not just reading and going on,
it also wishes to see the infinite blue.
The heart sits down to think about things,
fights to avoid being ordinary,
tries to love without hurting,
breathes the sun,
giving courage to itself,
surrenders, travels toward reason.
The heart fights among the swamp,
skirts the edge of the underworld,
falls exhausted, but won’t give in to what’s easy,
while irregular steps of intoxication
wake the stillness.