Poetry: Community builder, change maker, world saver?

Transition Town – All St. Anthony Park [header]

This is a monthly column from a neighborhood-based group working for a local response to climate change: a smaller carbon footprint and a stronger community. You can find out more about Transition Town – All St. Anthony Park at www.TransitionASAP.org.Poetry: Community builder, change maker, world saver?

By Mimi Jennings

Nationwide, poetry is news. Book sales, readings, slams, festivals, and online poetry all thrive “largely thanks to young poets making incredible work and finding new paths,” says Don Share, the editor of Poetry magazine.   

In the Twin Cities, we have more than a dozen poetry presses. Our performance scene vibrates daily with readings, open mics, and slams (the youth slam “Be Heard MN” has its finals March 30). Metro Transit features poetry broadsides, and our city has two poets laureate, Carol Connolly and, for youth, Dante Collins. 

Meanwhile, the Park Bugle has hosted an annual poetry contest for nine years, focused this time on transformation and change.  

Poetry as a transition tool

Speaking of changing times, District 12’s Community Council has tasked Transition Town – All St. Anthony Park with finding tools to survive—even thrive—while confronting climate degradation. During National Poetry Month, we declare that poetry—reading, writing, listening to it—helps create the teamwork needed to do planet repair. It heals, fights indifference, puts what is elusive into words, invites nuance and curiosity, opens hearts. 

Still, on her “despair days,” teacher-poet Naomi Cohn of St. Anthony Park finds it hard to justify the resources she uses (space heater, computer, printer, cloud storage, paper). She asks, shouldn’t her “transition strategy be to go silent,” instead? But the teacher in her sees no solution in avoiding difficult topics, whereas “…poetry overflows with possibilities for the resilience needed to live in the world we’ve irrevocably altered.”

U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s students turn to poems “to grapple with… forced migration, shifting gender norms, the environment, mental illness and technology—along with old standbys of love, loss and the changing of the seasons.” 

“Poetry really can save the world—but not all by itself,” says poet Alice Duggan, also of St. Anthony Park. Another local poet, Margaret Hasse, notes that it “tells a community’s story, as well as an individual’s. It imagines how things could be—if a war ended, if kindness prevailed.”

Let’s start on Earth Day at CoCreatz

On Monday, April 22, 7:30 p.m., five featured poets will read at CoCreatz, 2388 University Avenue (corner of Raymond Avenue).  Then the floor opens for other poets, including first-timers.     

How else can we harness the power of poetry? Tasks for writers: 

  • Use our inborn love for the natural world
  • Speak in sympathy with silenced voices
  • Amplify calls to action from front-line activists.

And, in the words of Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux, we can “…stand for our relatives/ the ones that crawl, the ones that fly, the ones that burrow/ the ones that swim, the ones that flower/ for relatives that cannot speak for themselves/ for our ancestors/ for those children/ who are not yet born.”

           A transition tip for all of us: Notice and jot down our moods (with the where and when), then review those notes later to see what energizes—the joy place from which we can take up heartening work. To feel less alone: read poems or take in a reading. 

As St. Anthony Park poet Dave Healy puts it:

A melody is playing, sweet and low

That cancels out the noise of fear and dread

Believe in yes and you will make it so.

Mimi Jennings is a St. Anthony Park poet and former French teacher at St. Paul’s Central High School.

Poet Naomi Cohn drew a crowd at a November reading at CoCreatz, the new community venue at University and Raymond Avenues. Photo by Dan Nordley

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