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Poets of the past and present in 2014 spotlight (part 1 of 2)

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“Sometimes: the struggle and willingness to say the unsayable –– has cost poets and artists their lives.”––from Journey through the Power of the Rainbow (Aberjhani)

Each year the value, presence, and volume of poetry in the world intensifies after spring arrives largely because the international community celebrates March 21 as World Poetry Day and people in the United States celebrate National Poetry Month in April. Both of these events since their establishment––National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and World Poetry Day by UNESCO in 1999––have served to magnify the focus on, and respect for, poetry as a universal cultural legacy.

People around the globe felt World Poetry Day significant enough that they celebrated it (some are still doing so) in a number of notable ways, from individual blog posts and the publication of new books to poetry festivals and extended open mic nights. In Ghana, for example, theater groups, members of writers’ workshops, and spoken word artists worked with the Goethe Institute and G3 Channels to stage presentations. At the Customs House in Sydney, Australia, multilingual poets presented recitals in indigenous Aboriginal dialects as well as in English.

Poetry and Freedom: the Case of Enoh Meyomesse

One of the more powerful observations of the day came from English Pen, the original hub for the PEN International collective of literary affiliates (which includes PEN American Center) dedicated to advocating freedom of expression in literature and journalism. True to its mission, prior to World Poetry Day, PEN sent out a call asking “our supporters to help translate imprisoned poet Enoh Meyomesse’s work into as many different languages as possible…”

A native of Cameroon in west Central Africa, Enoh Meyomesse is a former candidate for the Cameroonian presidency. He is also a former president of the Cameroon Writers Association and the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, political philosophy, and cultural dynamics. The author was first arrested November 2011 after returning from a trip to Singapore, upon which he found himself charged with theft, illegal possession of firearms, and attempting to stage a coup. Despite prosecutors’ inability to prove any of these charges, Meyomesse’s sentence has been repeatedly extended and he has been charged with new crimes for which there is still no evidence or corroborating witnesses.

In addition to its call for translations of Mr. Meyomesse’s work, English PEN had already “launched a crowd-sourced translation of the volume of poetry Meyomesse has written in prison, in order to raise funds for him and his family, and greater awareness of his case. We’re pleased to announce that the full collection Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison is now available to print-on-demand.”

Among the more recent translations of Meyomesse’s work into English is the poem titled “On Your Feet You Bunch of Bandits,” translated from the French “‘Debout Bandits’ by Andrea Reece. The following is a short excerpt:

…clink, clink, clink
and the padlock on the bars
wakes you

it’s time for cleaning
this foul cell full of lamentations
it’s time to fill your lungs with air
from the paradise that’s now out there
it’s time to empty your bloated bladder
it’s time to shift your aching
legs

it’s time to come to life
before plunging back into death…
--Enoh Meyomesse (translation by Andrea Reece)

NEXT: Poets of the Past and Present in 2014 Spotlight Part 2

by Aberjhani
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and The American Poet Who Went Home Again

More Readings for National Poetry Month 2014

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