Poetry as Truth-Telling Towards Democracy
This weekend, poetry, music, and spoken word take the stage as part of the annual two-day Lincoln Center Out of Doors celebration known as La Casita. We invited one of the featured poets, Purvi Shah, to share a few thoughts about the important role poetry plays in society, especially in relation to social justice movements and artistic activism.
Poetry is an everyday exchange in many parts of the world. In South Asia, poetry has inspired not just wonder but also revolutions, radical intimacy, and a feeling into truths of the everyday. Our traditions of call and response, a kind of improvisation, a kind of community-building, a belonging.
In this moment of rampant intolerance in the United States, poetry is a vital force for our democracy. Poetry brings forth truth-telling, sharing of narratives and histories that can otherwise be unheard and erased. Politicians and corporations have mass media. And the poets, a relentless voice in pursuit of truth, meaning, and connection. To know the people's truths, we must have poetries. To be democratic, we must commune in poetry.
As an immigrant, I came to poetry as a way of being home in English, in America. In poetry, I mark America’s marks on us:
Language offers not merely historical record, but also a way to feel, a way to transform, a way to get free. As June Jordan remarks in Children and the Hungering For, “Poetry is your own naming of the world…Poetry confers the power and the privilege of independence as a condition purged from threats to survival.”
For historically oppressed communities, poetry is a survival, a record of longings and hopes, a space for feeling and being when we are afforded little space. To make an everyday where each of us can be home, we need poetry alongside music, comedy, dance, and democracy. With poetry, we can dream into and find home for our hearts, voices, and bodies. With poetry, we can find home for democracy.
About the Artist
Purvi Shah is the author of Terrain Tracks, the forthcoming poetry collection Miracle Marks (Curbstone Books 2019), and inspires change as a non-profit consultant on gender, economic, and racial equity. Her favorite art practices are her sparkly eyeshadow and raucous laughter. Discover more @PurviPoets or http://purvipoets.net.
Join Shah and other La Casita artists this weekend at Lincoln Center's Hearst Plaza (Saturday) and at Teatro Pregones in the Bronx (Sunday).