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We Cannot Be Silent: Four Poets Confront Atrocity
Sunday, November 24, 2019 @ 2:30 pm
Auditorium (Building 1, 2nd Floor, Room 1261)
300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL 33132 United States
In Felon, Reginald Dwayne Betts tells the story of post-incarceration existence and examines prison, not as a static space, but as a force that enacts pressure throughout a person’s life. Jericho Brown’s The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. In Deaf Republic, Ilya Kaminsky confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them. Naomi Shihab Nye’s The Tiny Journalist puts a human face on war and the violence that divides us from each other.
Ilya Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union. He is the author of Dancing in Odessa, a poetry collection, and co-editor of The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry. He was a 2014 finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Ilya Kaminsky’s collection of poems Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press) opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear―they all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theater; and Galya’s girls, heroically teaching signing by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea, Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them. The New York Times Book Review noted “These poems bestow the power of sacred drama on a secular martyrology. . . . By situating these poems in a country at war, Kaminsky forces the reader to consider both the ways in which we define our social belonging and the loyalties according to which we operate.”
Jericho Brown is the author of The New Testament (2014), which received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; and Please (2008), which received the 2009 American Book Award. His most recent book, The Tradition is a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry. Brown worked as a speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans before earning his Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. He also holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Orleans and graduated with a BA from Dillard University in 1998. The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press) details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate and at their very core a distillation of the human. With clarity and a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues, he makes poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma, questioning the terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and celebrating how we survive. U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith noted that “These astounding poems by Jericho Brown don't merely hold a lens up to the world and watch from a safe distance; they run or roll or stomp their way into what matters―loss, desire, rage, becoming―and stay there until something necessary begins to make sense.”
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, essayist, and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice. He is the author of three collections of poetry, Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era, and Shahid Reads His Own Palm, as well as a memoir, A Question of Freedom. A graduate of Yale Law School, he writes and lectures about the impact of mass incarceration on American society. Felon (W. W. Norton & Company) tells the story of the effects of incarceration in fierce, dazzling poems. It explores a wide range of emotions and experiences through homelessness, underemployment, love, drug abuse, domestic violence, fatherhood, and grace, and in doing so, it creates a travelogue for an imagined life. Drawing inspiration from lawsuits filed on behalf of the incarcerated, the redaction poems focus on the ways we exploit and erase the poor and imprisoned from public consciousness. He also confronts the funk of post-incarceration existence and examines prison not as a static space, but as a force that enacts pressure throughout a person’s life. Dan Chiasson wrote for The New Yorker that Felon “ shows how poems can be enlisted to radically disrupt narrative... The black bars of redacted text [in the redaction poems], which usually suggest narrative withheld, here reveal its true contours... For Betts, the way to expression passes through such troubled silences.”