Soul Stirrers #4: Traveling Stanzas
Much like the first feature of our Soul Stirrers series, Traveling Stanzas is a multifaceted public arts initiative that aims to weave poetry into our everyday lives — encouraging us to pause and reflect upon what’s happening within and around us — so as to foster more meaningful encounters between different people within our communities.
The project, borne out of a collaboration in 2009 between the Wick Poetry Center and students of visual communication design at Kent State University, believes in the power of poetry to “give voice to what is troubling us, to honor what we love, to make sense of our lives, to remember our past, and to commemorate what we’ve lost”.
Using poetry as both a compass and a guiding light, Traveling Stanzas has traversed the world with local and international exhibitions, collaborated with organizational partners on public engagement events, and developed a digital toolkit for anyone interested in facilitating cross-cultural conversations of their own.
What distinguishes Traveling Stanzas from other projects of a similar tangent is its dedication to amplifying the inclusive, interdisciplinary, highly interactive, and inherently sensorial nature of poetry. Though the project was initiated by an academic institution, Traveling Stanzas has always been a pursuit in service of the community — reaching out and bringing people together through shared creative experiences — rather than the ivory tower.
What kinds of revelations can emerge from an endeavour like this? Why poetry?
Poems are silences and secrets dressed up in curious combinations of words. Poems give shape to complex emotional truths as well as the unspoken. Poems demand a deeper level of engagement, empathy, and understanding. As such, poetry is completely antithetical to noisy clickbait headlines, divisive echo chambers, and rampant misinformation. That’s precisely why we need more projects like Traveling Stanzas — poetry is an antidote that heals our spirits. Only then can we change the world for the better.
In the words of writers Eliot Weinberger and Forrest Gander:
EW But that’s “poetic” as in “arty” or “dreamy.” The problem is that, for most of the reading public in the US, poetry has nothing to do with life, and the intellectual and cultural life of the country. Poetry is something that gets written and read—or more exactly, unread—in the creative writing schools. Or it’s a vehicle for therapy. To take Pound’s old formula, it’s neither news, nor will it stay news. Poetry doesn’t have to be about your divorce, or the meaninglessness of language. Traditionally it’s the repository for mythology and history, theology, philosophy, and science, as well as the enduring human emotions—everything a society knows about itself, as well as a way to talk to the dead and to listen to yourself.
FG But I think one reason you think most of the reading public doesn’t connect poetry to their lives is because our culture has honed all the various ways that language has always been used in every culture we know anything about. Honed it into one particular mode of language, what we use to find out who killed whom, what we use for commerce and information. The visionary, the incantatory, the heuristic, all the kinds of language that are more subtle and complex and less determined but important to full human experience, that’s been filtered out. But that’s why I think people continue to be drawn back to poetry.