Out of living tissue:Poetry in the realm of social conflict
It was 2016, when for the first time I read the verse Ni una menos (Not one [woman] less), in the form of a facebook invite to a group sent by a friend1. And for the next three days there was to be an unstoppable outpouring of testimony of all types of abuse women have suffered in Perú throughout their lives, victims of the patriarchal power, represented in their own fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, school teachers, almost all men in different roles, grisly stories of abuse that for many were being told for the first time.
What struck me from the start was the meaning of these words, there was an acknowledgement in me, of the losses we have collectively already suffered2. It talked to my own experience of the world I inhabited, but this time it came as a communal front, not one single of us gone anymore, and around it, our many voices. The time of isolated and private pains, fears, and trauma started to open, it talked to a future in which we were the many, in an interweaving of relations, dialogue and language.
…dissident poetry…, does not respect boundaries between private and public, and other. In breaking boundaries, it breaks silences, speaking for, or at best, with, the silenced; opening poetry up, putting it in the middle of life…, it is a poetry that talks back, that would act as a part of the world, not simply as a mirror of it.3 - James Scully
It was later that same year that I came to know more about the origin of this verse. It was 1995 when Mexican poet Susana Chavez pronounced Ni una menos, ni una muerta más (Not one [woman] less, not one more [woman] dead), in protest of the numerous female homicides4 in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico5. Six years later Susana herself died from a brutal gender based attack.
List of Demands
By Susana Chavez
Let the scream stop all around
behind the chairs calling us.
Let the waiting for eternity cease
tired of waiting for us,
that the silence becomes transparent
so that the real sound
filters your soul at last.
that "the perfect circle" becomes alight
in someone who opens a door.
That the blow of the sea remains in the memory,
Let the habits of uncertainty end,
let the rain fall where the ash gets wet,
that nostalgia always works in the snow,
let me interrupt the game
to keep silent,
May God bless broken shoes
and remove us from the habit so succumbed to pain.
The multiple temporalities
The potency of her poetry would resonate years later throughout South America, when in 2015, in Argentina, a group of female artists, academics and journalists organised under Ni una menos, took the streets of Buenos Aires, where 200,000 people congregated6.
Ni una menos become a regional cry against the patriarchal and criminal system that turns their head in the face of high rates of violent gender based crimes towards women7, taking the protests to the streets of Lima, Perú8, Santiago, Chile, Río de Janeiro, Brasil and other major cities in South America, to confront the systematic nature of abuse, and its normalisation.
Nowadays Susana Chavez’s poems are read at public demonstrations and through the voices of others, recited on moving buses, in plazas and across the city of Juarez.
When fighting larger structures of power, many times represented by the state, we are never on equal footing, the state possesses vastly superior means and resources to silence/ignore dissident postures, and with a language of its own, its intentions are to delegitimise the claims for justice.
… If there is a line to be drawn, it’s not so much between secularism and belief as between those for whom language has metaphoric density and those for whom it is merely formulaic — to be used for repression, manipulation, empty certitudes to ensure obedience.9 - Adrienne Rich
In more practical terms, let’s go to our own memories and try and think of times in which we have read or listened to politicians, government agencies and media around the world using expressions such as the indigenous peoples are putting the development of our country at risk by opposing the exploitation of lands10, or, progress won’t be achieved if we agree to the demands of minority groups, or, we should think in terms of national interests and the list goes on. These are the signs of a structured language of delegitimisation, alienation and ostracism, that acts in the best interests of a neoliberalist logic, not only of resources but also of affections and people’s rights.
In a time of multiple platforms of information and opinion and exhaustion, the voice of individuals becomes of radical importance, as a register of experiences, generating articulations for the creation of their rightful space to exist, and in many cases survive.
Вы нас даже не представляете! / You cannot even imagine/represent us! by poet Pavel Arsenev, was a slogan used during the 2011 demonstrations against the Russian parliamentary election results. This phrase conjures the very essence of how little or at all the individual and its collectivity is taken into account, and their narratives ignored. In Russian the word for imagine reads also as represent. A verse initially conceived for an art exhibition environment was taken by the people into the streets and embraced as a profound examination and clear recognition of the impossibility for those in power to represent the one(s) they can’t even imagine. It’s the acknowledgment of a government completely removed from the reality of their own electorate, a government unable to understand their claims, much less legislate in their favour.
…These records of experiences, frustrations and aspirations of people are in fact the archives that should shape our historiographical concerns, and cause us to re-examine our analytic fixation with state policies and institutions, national interests, and international relations…
… it should be impossible for any commentator to side-step politically formative power of everyday experience and indeed the powerful memories they generate… 11 - Suvir Kaul
A government body capable of ignoring social claims, tends to also be characterized by resorting to repressive power12 and censorship.
A profound lecture of this is given by Kaul in his book From Of Gardens and Graveyards. Kaul provides a very detailed study tracing the effects of the long lasting war between the Indian central government and self-determination movements in Jammu and Kashmir, pointing out the effects muscular violence has had on the imaginarium of people, and how poetry performs the view of the past, present and future based on the daily conditions of the material existence of the Kashmiris.
Following this, Kaul writes on the possibilities for a collective self-recognition, which means, in his own words, that trauma is to be understood not simply as the psychic condition of victimage, but as crucial to political mobilization. And not just trauma, but also mourning: the processions that have become central to practices of community mourning often take the form of demonstrations… as their demands for justice…
That’s When I Threw Stones
By Arshad Mushtaq
When they tied barbed wire to my love
That’s when I threw stones!
When they shattered my dream
That’s when I threw stones.
When they fired at a suckling baby
My blood rose to a boil,
When they stuffed in a grave a hennaed groom
That’s when I threw stones!
When they torched a poor widow’s home
Saying “Jai Hind,”
Each time they honored oppression
That’s when I threw stones!
When they left Lal Děd naked
On the bank of the Rambiar,
When they killed Yousuf before Zooni’s eyes
That’s when I threw stones!
When in darkness into the Vyeth they threw
A brother of seven sisters,
When into death’s sleep
They lulled Akanandun,
That’s when I threw stones.
The public act of stone throwing comes into the verse as testimony of the extensive brutality and repression carried out by the military occupation. Violence has become a defining condition of the daily living of Kashmiris, and the creative act is not exempt from it.
by Shabir “Azar”
In the mirror of that lake,
what should I see...?
from its depths
that stranger-like corpse
I have often
thrown a stone—
I wished to smash that mirror
ripples formed, spread, dissipated
at the furthest reaches of the silent lake
the same corpse kept staring
as if it would steal
my musings today...!
fold the imprint of my future
into the vastness of the lake!
Why should I pick up a stone
and smash this mirror
if the corpse
is in the lake
the lake too
is in the corpse
both are locked in drops of
Poetry and politics
As in the production of any art or life, I think it is crucial to bring attention to the existing dynamics and conditions in which it occurs, as well as the resulting system in which it comes to exist. Which is the reason why, I discourage the subject of poetry and politics being addressed from the standpoint of whether a poet should write political poetry, as much as any other — or that poetry should be, in any way, produced to serve any particular purposes.
To support this thought, I would like to go back to the individual, who finds a way for their own subjective experience to be expressed, as well as the sensitivity this individual has for others’ experiences of the same or different struggles, may it be in the role of a poet, a citizen or any other. A system, in which the poem comes to exist within the social tissue, in dialogue with others' individual experiences, and struggles, allowing each of the participants of this system to think of themselves from their individualities open to the collective, articulating themselves into history.
It has been now almost three years since I read Ni una menos on my screen, and I think those later articulations, dialogues and constructions that turned into language, have made it possible for me to undertake the task of writing this piece.
- <p>Organising the first national protest against gender based violence in Peru. <a href="#fnref1:1" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Femicides_in_Peru#cite_note-PERU17-1">https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Femicides_in_Peru#cite_note-PERU17-1</a> <a href="#fnref1:2" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p>Excerpt from Line Break, Poetry as a Social Practice by James Scully <a href="#fnref1:3" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p>Since the mid 1990s, 1700 femicides and up to 3000 disappearances of women have been registered in the City of Juarez. <a href="#fnref1:4" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p><a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/03/201138142312445430.html">https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/03/201138142312445430.html</a> <a href="#fnref1:5" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p><a href="https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/argentina-200000-rally-against-femicide-domestic-violence-buenos-aires-1504391">https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/argentina-200000-rally-against-femicide-domestic-violence-buenos-aires-1504391</a> <a href="#fnref1:6" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p>The movement has also touched on topics such as gender roles, sexual harassment, legality of abortion, sex workers rights, and transgender rights. <a href="#fnref1:7" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p>Considered the largest demonstration in Peruvian History <a href="https://larepublica.pe/sociedad/963798-la-mas-grande-de-la-historia">https://larepublica.pe/sociedad/963798-la-mas-grande-de-la-historia</a>  <a href="#fnref1:8" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p>Extract from Poetry and Commitment by Adrienne Rich. <a href="#fnref1:9" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p><a href="https://www.hispantv.com/noticias/argentina/360896/mapuche-represion-bariloche-protesta">https://www.hispantv.com/noticias/argentina/360896/mapuche-represion-bariloche-protesta</a> <a href="#fnref1:10" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p>Extract from Of Gardens and Graves by Suvir Kaul <a href="#fnref1:11" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>
- <p><a href="https://nacla.org/news/2018/04/16/repressive-status-quo">https://nacla.org/news/2018/04/16/repressive-status-quo</a> <a href="#fnref1:12" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">↩</a></p>