Feeling overwhelmed by the SXSW buzz? Ground yourself with a healthy dose of poetry.
On Sunday, Mar 11, Badgerdog Literary Publishing, in collaboration with Ballet Austin’s 2012 Light/The Holocaut & Humanity Project presents “In Front of Strangers I Sing: Poems of Witness & Courage." The message of the event should help remind you that it’s not all about badges and wristbands these next few weeks.
Ballet Austin’s Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project is a large-scale production devoted to promoting the spirit of human triumph. Beyond the stunning, full-length contemporary ballet (watch a preview here), Ballet Austin has also envisioned and created a collaborative, educational outreach initiative designed to use the arts and public dialogue to support the protection of human rights, inviting more than 30 Austin nonprofits like Badgerdog to bring attention to human rights issues into their service work.
As a literary organization, it made sense for Badgerdog to explore these themes through literature. Cecily Sailer, Education Programs Manager of Badgerdog told CultureMap, “We saw this as an occasion to engage our students in a powerful conversation that reaches across cultures, across geographic distances, and across generations.”
Students in Badgerdog’s creative writing workshops were introduced to “poets of witness”—poets like Osip Mandelstam and Federico Garcia Lorca—and responded with their own poetry, selections of which will be read on Sunday afternoon.
Civil strife, war and genocide can be difficult subjects to broach, particularly with young students, but Sailer was struck by both the graceful way instructors were able to engage their students in conversations, and by the poetry the students produced.
“Many of the poems our students will share on Sunday have left me breathless because, through metaphor and image, they cut to the heart of the sorrow that exists within these stories, but they simultaneous speak to our collective capacity for empathy and courage,” explains Sailer.
For Lindy Calvac, a fourth grade student who was inspired by her class's discussion of the roots of blues music and its ties to slavery, her image of choice was a koala. She wrote: “Some said koalas could not sing, / but you can sing what’s in your heart. / Let your feelings tell your song. / Don’t let anyone tell you how it goes.”
The reading on Sunday will feature not only young writers but “Silver Voices in Ink” writers, students from Badgerdog’s creative writing program for senior citizens. Because of the age difference and the fact that writers in the Silver Voices in Ink workshops are more familiar with stories from the Holocaust, it makes for an interesting juxtaposition in their work. It also makes for an inspiring sense of community Sailer explains, to hear “all of the writers, regardless of age, offer equally profound expressions in response to the events and people they’ve encountered in the classroom.”
The Light / The Holocause & Humanity Project has a packed schedule of community partnership events this season, but the collaboration with Badgerdog is a particularly valuable experience, explains Ballet Austin’s Executive Director Cookie Ruiz.
“'In Front of Strangers I Sing: Poems of Witness & Courage' brings writers of all ages together to consider written works that bear witness to historic and current situations of conflict, genocide and other human rights infractions. The impact of the community dialogue throughout Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project comes from a multi-disciplinary and robust conversation. Badgerdog adds an important aspect to this dialogue,” she says.
In Front of Strangers I Sing: Poems of Witness & Courage will take place at 2 PM on Sunday, Mar 11 at Ballet Austin. In addition to a free chapbook featuring the Badgerdog writers' poetry, illustrated poetry cards by the beautiful sketch artist Esteban Ray will be sold for $1 each; proceeds will benefit the Mutlicultural Refugee Coalition in Austin.