By Puma Perl
On Nov. 9, 2016, I woke up numb.
Then I wrote a poem. Social media exploded with rage and argument. My Texan poet buddy Justin Booth and I made a pact to post poems, lyrics, and quotes. Diane di Prima. Amiri Baraka. Bad Brains. I sought to commune with other artists.
“According to Percy Shelley, ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,’” said Hoboken poet Danny Shot, who was also interested in activist events. “In this time of potential darkness, we will have to work that much harder to bring light into the world.”
Poets Protest Against Trump, a nationwide action that took place over the weekend, was definitely a force for light.
Alan Kaufman, the novelist, memoirist, and poet who organized the Sunday gathering on the steps City Hall, told me he created the event “as a result of my own shocked disbelief at this election.”
Kaufman saw the fear rising around the country, and started bringing artists together to stand against it.
“My response to fear has always been to act in defiance of it,” he said. “The greater the fear, the larger the action. I needed someone with an existing organization in place, and contacted Michael Rothenberg of 100 Thousand Poets For Change, asking him to join me in rallying the nation’s poets to rise up. Together we contacted poets from New York to San Francisco, and in no time, poet protests sprang up in cities and towns across the U.S.”
Rothenberg, a Tallahassee resident, created several similar events in Florida. “I feel that it is my job to do what I can to enable and empower all of these poets’ and artists’ actions, and to bring our resources together,” he told me. “We must move away from empire building and towards unity.”
A group of poets gathered at 1 p.m. on the steps of City Hall. Kaufman opened the reading with his poem, “Let Us,” dedicated to “the poets of January 15 and the women of January 21 (the poem recently appeared in our sister publication, The Villager, and is available online at thevi
And in freewheeling, non-elitist fashion, everyone who wanted to got the chance to mount the steps and offer his or her unique perspective.
Maria de Los Angeles, a visual artist, brought a poem, “Who Am I?”
“I am here with words to show diversity. We are a diverse country that is fictionalized as white. It has never been white,” she said.
When you see me, what do you see?
I feel like an Undocumented artist….
But I see an American who is Free.
Queens resident Ron Kolm is a founder of the Unbearables, a collective of underground artists and writers. He provided a humorous note in “Hitler Was Wrong (And Donald Trump Is Too).” He shared with me his theory that Hitler came to power due to his resemblance to Charlie Chaplin, and sees a particularly chilling similarity in Trump’s election.
Wouldn’t have been
A Bill Clinton
Or a Donald Trump
Without the Terminator.
Nancy Mercado, who brought her poem, “I Told You,” pointed out the vital role of dissident writers in confronting and undermining authoritarian leaders, whatever the cost.
“Writers can, and often do, pose a threat to such regimes, as they expose their unscrupulous practices,” she noted. “As Trump’s political apparatus becomes reality, writers and poets who document these times will be of great importance. It remains to be seen whether their work will be met with paying the ultimate price.”
I told you that McCarthy
Come back from the dead
The gathering was not large, but it was high-spirited with a sense of community, knowing that similar readings were taking place across the nation.
“This was a great cross-section of poetry representing many demographics,” Kaufman said. “This is just the beginning. We must keep organizing and build a collective sense of community so that people do not feel alone.”
Some participants later headed up to a separate PEN America gathering held on the steps of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (Fifth Ave. & W. 42nd St.). The similar event, called Writers Resist: Louder Together for Free Expression, was organized as “a collective stand to defend free expression, reject hatred, and uphold truth in the face of lies and misinformation.”
Steve Dalachinsky, who had read a particularly moving piece (“heavy sleep”) at the Poets Protest Against Trump gathering, reported back: “Although one had a modest but sincere attendance and one had a larger crowd, both events were of equal weight in emphasizing the importance of fighting against a corrupt and dangerous government. Both put forth valuable messages and insights into what is happening, or could happen, in a Trump/Republican-dominated world.”
That evening, I heard from my Texas friend, Justin Booth, who had organized a reading at Austin’s Malvern Books. “The event was a huge success,” he told me, “Austin poets vowing to continue their vigil, not wavering in calling Mr. Trump out on behaviors that are dangerous as well as dishonest.”
Similar reports have come in from events around the country.
Puma Perl is a widely published poet and writer, as well as a performer and producer, whose works include “knuckle tattoos” and “Retrograde.” Perl’s video links and event updates can be found at pumap