Writing as A Tool in Healing: Poetryforpeace Celebrates More than 100,000 Hits, Hundreds of Comments & A Loyal Group of International Readers: Here’s to You, My Poetry from Around the Web

AFRICA

                  —Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The calabash
now shattered

her contents
spilled
like palm wine

across the regions
of the world.

                     I began blogging Poetryforpeace in late July of 2007 as an outlet for my overwhelming excitement after visiting Medellin, Colombia, a guest of the International Poetry Festival of Medellin in Colombia, South America, where I was one of 75 international world poets featured in that celebration of poetry. There, in Colombia, I saw a confirmation of my belief in writing as a source of healing all of the traumas we can experience as people. The Colombian people who by that year had seen 40 years of brutal fighting and disintegration of its people were confirming my belief that no matter how bitter the trauma, the pen is more powerful than the bullet and that writing can heal. This is because throughout my life, even as a child, I wrote to get rid of whatever bad feelings I had during those childhood and adolescent years, so now, this was another stage for me in the writing process.

MONROVIA 2008

——— Patiricia Jabbeh Wesley (Copyright: Where the Road Turns, Autumn House Press, 2010)

On the side walk, patches of people
linger late.

In the day, they are like rice grains
along the roadways,

and at night,
they wallpaper lame bodies
in the draft darkness
of the broken city.

Crowds of war returnees,
waiting for nothing,
day after day,

waiting for nothing
after refugee camp,
after their former cities
of refuge

spewed them out like dirt,
after wandering the globe.
After death’s passing,
they have returned

looking like returnees
from the dead.

The city is hot, burning like steel
with hunger.

The air used to belong to us here
one woman said,
there used to be a road
to take us back home.

Today, the road homeward is now lost
The road to Cape Palmas, filled
with dry bones.

But on the street,
a motorcade is coming.
Someone is living.
Someone is living on these bones.

     I was in the middle of the Liberian civil war when I began to use my talent in writing Poetry and prose to search for healing from the traumatic experience of the bloody Liberian civil war I was in. After my husband, children and I survived those first two years and moved to the US, I was so devastated, I needed something more than prayer to help me. I was so emotionally traumatized by the killing of numerous people we had witnessed, the torture my family and I had experienced, the ugliness of war revealed in the starvation many of us war refugees experienced,  the pain from watching children and the elderly die in the war, the bombs and the burning buildings, and all that war can bring upon any people, I could not stop crying. During my first years out of the war, even as a mother of then three little children, a wife and a professional person, I broke down every time anyone wanted me to say something about my experience of the then on-going Liberian civil war.

This was when I returned to writing. I decided in that first year of my arrival in the US, in 1991, to write down my memories of the war, to tell it all, first in a narrative of five hundred pages, writing that entire year. Later on, I found the strength to begin writing poetry again, my favorite genre in the writing process. I wrote endlessly, writing first about the war that had happened to Liberia, to its people, people other than myself. I was too hurt to bring images of the war close to myself in the poetry I wrote in those early years, poetry, that became part of my first book, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa.   

CITY

                     —–Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

At night, it is like fire
spreading beneath us.
This vast city
aflame, and the plane groaning.

The city is more beautiful
from the sky at night.
At noon, it looks like
a worn-out garage,
a thing in the middle
of swamp country.

All the buildings are worn-out,
rusted to the bone
of steel, twisted
to make way so life
can go on.

Everything is bent and broken
along the hilltops.
I touch air to see if air
is still there.
The touchdown,

and we appear all worn-out,
too, like the city, broken.
All the birds
moved out long ago.
The trees too.
.

      It was then I discovered that the more I wrote down my hurt feelings, my sorrow, and bitterness from the torture I’d experienced, the less I cried, the less angry I was, and the more I could reason and accept my and my country’s situation for what was happening to us. I was becoming healed even though the war still raged. I know that healing for me also involved prayer and spiritual healing, but writing down my feelings meant that I was admitting that indeed, these things had happened to me and to my people, and yes, indeed, it was okay to feel hurt, and yes, I could indeed be healed. 

    Writing poetry set me free from all of the anger from watching the devastation of my beloved Liberia, dulled the pain of losing so many relatives and all I had worked so hard for, including losing my mother and stepmother, and even as more family members and friends were killed in that prolonged war, I would turn to my computer and write, using powerful images as they came to me to express my feelings. I wrote about everything, my anger, my fears, my hope, my prophesies about the end of the war and hopes of a day when we would no longer be at war. 

BLOGGING:

     So, again when I found another means of writing to find healing in blogging, I added this form of creativity to my poetry. Here, today, I celebrate Poetryforpeace, an international blog and its high traffic of my faithful readers and those seeking for something, many stumbling upon this site accidentally. I don’t feel deserving of your words of encouragement or your time taken out for this blog, but I feel a kind of connection to you. I feel like you are part of my life, and you do know where I am and where you are. It is for you that I write. When I write, I often think of people across the world who will read every word, even if those are few, even if those will find my accidentally. You and I are going to change the world.  My hope is that despite my slow posting in the past couple years, you will find something within the past of my blogging to hold on to until I find the time to revisit you with a few new words.

I want the site to bring everything to everyone. Some will find poetry; others will find politics; others have found mundane stories, news, etc. All have been welcome. Here, today I celebrate with a small sample of my poems, all, published poems in my four books of poetry. These were already scattered around the web, but are gathered for your pleasure. Enjoy and let’s live. Life is short and beautiful. Let’s keep our hopes for all the women around the world as we celebrate International Women’s Day and as we celebrate Women’s History Month. Happy Women’s History Month even if you’re a man. Remember, without a woman, there is no man.

BRINGING CLOSURE

          — Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (copyright: The River is Rising Autumn House Press, 2007)

Closure is such a final thing- the needle in the arm,
one last word or no last word at all, a death chamber

where the supposed convict lies waiting so the poison
will descend or ascend to the heart, a final beat,

and then sleep, that eternal thing none of us living
has ever seen. In California, today, a man is being

put to death, but outside, his supporters wait; candles,
flames, anger- the cold chill of death and life,

and a country that waits for all the arguments to die
or live on. The victim’s mother will see closure today,

they say, and move on after the murderer or the supposed
murderer is laid to rest with her son, side by side.

Death is such an ironic thing to know. To know death
is to know rot, hush, the lack of pain. It is 3 am

in Pennsylvania. Time, so deceptive, and arbitrary
and imperfect. Around the world, we all wait, for

the executioner’s poke into vein, blood meeting poison.
We are such civilized people, I’d say, dishing out death

in small poking needles. The newsmen tell us they
cannot find his vein. The awkwardness of asking the one

awaiting death to find his own vein so they can murder
him too- the executioner’s awkward fingers, the knowing

fingers- afraid of both the man and the art of killing the man.
I hate death. I hate the dying, the ugly process of dying,

the ritual of murder. So I too, keep vigil on my carpet.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell my eleven year-old daughter how

we have all murdered another human being. An eye
for an eye, so far away from my bedroom of dim lights,

a comforter or two, the surrounding hills in close view.
There is always a mountain here in Pennsylvania,

always that looming presence of life and death and the
far away feeling of the valley below, of being so far away

from home. There is no closure, I see, after the poison
has reached the heart, and the accused, stretched out, finally.

The victim’s mother begins to weep all over again-
as if this was just the beginning of the dying.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I NOW WANDER    (Copyright: Becoming Ebony, SIU Press, 2003

                                                    Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

I raised ducks, pigs, dogs, barking watchdogs.
Wild chickens loose, dancing, flapping old wings.

Red and white American roosters, meant to be sheltered
and fed with vitamins until they grow dumb;

in our yard I set them loose among African breeds
that pecked at them until they, too, grew wild and free.

I planted papayas, fat belly papayas, elongated papayas,
tiny papayas, hanging. I planted pineapples, mangoes,

long juicy sugar canes, wild coco-yams. From our bedroom
window I saw plantain and bananas bloom, again and again,

take on flesh and ripeness. And then the war came, and the rebels
slaughtered my pigs, my strong roosters, my hens,

my heavy, squawking ducks. Now I wander among strangers,
looking for new ducks, new hens, new coco-yams, new wars.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

THE WOMEN IN MY FAMILY

                                        Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The women in my family were supposed
to be men. Heavy body men, brawny
arms and legs, thick muscular chests and the heart,
smaller than a speck of dirt.

They come ready with muscled arms and legs,
big feet, big hands, big bones,

a temper that’s hot enough to start World War Three.
We pride our scattered strings
of beards under left chins

as if we had anything to do with creating ourselves.
The women outnumber the men
in my father’s family, leaving our fathers roaming

wild nights in search of baby-spitting concubines
to save the family name.
It is an abomination when there are no boy children.

At the birth of each one of us girls, a father sat prostrate
in the earth, in sackcloth and ash, wailing.

It is abomination when there are no men
in the family, when mothers can’t bring forth
boy children in my clan.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

WHEN I GET TO HEAVEN

                Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (1998, Before the Palm Could Blook

When I get to heaven
I’m going to shout hallelujah all over the place.
Dancing the Dorklor, the Wahyee,
the Ballet, the Rock and Roll.
I’ll dance the Brake, the Rap, Hip-Hop.
All the dances only sinners have danced.
I’ll sing Opera, the African way,
dance the Ballet the African way.

When I get to heaven
I’ll pray so loud, shaking hands the White way,
the Black way; greeting with kola nuts
as the Grebos do.
I’ll lie prostrate, to greet
the Yoruba way. Snap fingers to greet
as Liberians do.
There will be no boundaries, law laws, no rules.

When I get to heaven
I’ll sing the blues and dance the Sumu.
I’ll paint my face with white chalk and red rock,
sit with missionaries so all can see
I’ll pound my drums, shaking my Sahsah.
Blowing my trumpet the African way
Dancing to Jesus the African way

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

WHAT DIRGE

                              –Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

So what shall I use to wipe my brow?
To bring back a life
snatched away in its prime?
What shall I say, and what shall I lay hands
so helpless upon to wipe the sorrow
from my brow?

What shall I wear to mourn a life
whose end has dealt us this blow?
Shall I wear black, so when our townswomen,
hearing the drums, come wailing, wailing
they shall see the sorrow
of my heart on my dark lappa?

Shall I tie a string around my forehead?
Shall I lie prostrate on The Mat?
Shall I cry tears for those you’ve left us to feed
when we ourselves cannot feed ourselves
in a land where the hungry, forever hungry,
keep the faith?

What dirge shall I sing?
Shall I recount the battles fought at Nganlun?
Shall I sing of blood shed at the cracking of a gun
when I myself am so afraid of the gun?
What shall I say when the women,
hearing my song, come wailing
and knocking at my door?

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

FINDING MY FAMILY

                            Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

“Good friend, please help me.
Did you happen to see
two boys when you lived in Kataka?
One dark, chubby?
The other, light with dark eyes?
Good friend,
did you see them while you lived in Ganta?
One would have been ten
and the other this tall.
My big boy, Nyema, the small one, Doeteh.
Good friend, can you tell me
if they went to Tapeta?
Were they given weapons, did they kill?
Good friend, can you say
if they walked to Bassa?
Did they starve to death?
Good friend, can you say
if there was a mother walking by their side?
Was she healthy? was she treated well?
Oh, good friend, so this is where
they took them out of line?
Good friend, were they hungry
when they met their end?
Oh, good friend, I will follow
to wrap up their bones.
Thank you, good friend.
But how will I know their bones?

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

POETRY ABOUT OTHER COUNTRIES:

MEDELLIN, 2007

               —-Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
to God, I wish I could take out my heart for you,
but how will I sing this song to you without a heart?
You, with so much heart for love and poetry,
for hope in the eyes of the little girl
who with a scrap of white paper, wants me to say a word
to her, to autograph my name for her, to write it in her
name. She tells me with that unusual smile how
she loves my poems, but she is only eight years old.
She and Carlos, the five year old brother who have
pushed through the thousands to get to me.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
where we go down from the mountain
into the bowl of a city, into the deep heart of a city,
so warm, a city where people still smile
and clap to a poem, and cry for the war, a city
where concrete houses hold up the hills with muscles
of steel, muscles of pain, and somewhere along the roads
as the bus descends from the airport, the poor have
erected their own lives so sadly, waiting,
and yet, they overlook the city with hope.
From the edge of sharp cliffs and the side roads,
the burning lights and flames of the city, hard
and indistinguishable from anger.
But theirs is of the pain from the years gone.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
Waiting can be so hard, Medellin.
And I love you from my heart. I love your laughter,
your warm hugs and kisses, your Spanish, so simply
plain and warm. I love even your tears that
you have shared with me, when a poem I’m reading
touches you in that place where only a poem can go.
At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too.

BUDUBURAM Refugee Camp & My Journey Home to Liberia:The Past Still Holds On to the Present Despite the Untold Stories of Ruin and Hope

Visiting One’s Original Homeland for Research is Not Easy: Part I- Buduburam & Accra, Ghana

MY Journey back home to Liberia began on June 14. I arrived in Accra, Ghana on June 15, 2011, where I revisited the infamous Liberian Buduburam Refugee Camp, now with only an estimated 11,000 refugees still living. Three years ago, I visited the Buduburam camp and interviewed Liberian women. This year, I interviewed women and was fortunate when the UN Manager of Settlement, Mr. Gavivina Yao Tamakloe granted me a lengthy interview on the state of the refugees and the camp. His generous decision to allow me into his office and to be interviewed on his perspectives about working with Liberian and other African refugees and the camp has contributed immensely to my on-going research.

(Left: Liberian refugee lady who has been in exile since 1990, lost to her children until recently. She told me she’s all set to return home, and was negotiating assistance with the UN refugee office.)

LIBERIA stands once more at the crossroads as the Presidential elections campaign begins, and if you’re not paying attention, please begin to. As I write, there are still thousands of Liberian refugees in camps in Ghana, in Nigeria, and in other parts of the world, who still need to return home. But Monrovia has become Liberia, exploding with people who have no reason to live in the overwhelming city.

Buduburam:

Human beings are not animals that are kept in a cage until we can end our wars. This is why keeping people or allowing human beings to remain in a refugee camp for five, ten, twenty years is not good.

Two Women-Two Directions and Decisions: Comfort Roberts (L) undecided about returning to Liberia while Marie Mapu Gpabo ( R) showed me her papers for her return home to Liberia by the end of the month. She is excited to hopefully reunite with her lost children she has not seen for more than 20 years while Comfort, originally from Maryland County, Liberia, a woman who still knows Grebo will remain with grandchild and one daughter, working with the UN office. She introduced me to the Camp Manager and helped me get a an audio/video interview with the manager. These women do not only need their stories heard. They need the UN to change its policy on the kind of assistance refugees are given in the repatriation process and how they are received in Liberian upon arrival.

According to them, the UN gives each family a hundred dollars, no pots or pans, nothing for resettling back home. The United Nations has to do more in order to encourage refugees to return home.  As for Liberians who  have been in Buduburam and other smaller camps in Ghana for many years, the need to return home or be returned home should be the priority of both the United Nations and the Liberian government. These women above have lived at Buduburam for at least fifteen years each. The lady in the blue, Ms. Comfort Roberts, fled to Ghana in the heat of the war when her husband and two daughters were killed. He story is too graphic to tell. Now with one grandchild, she works in the UN office at the camp. She does not know when she will ever return home or if there is something to return home to.

Above are photos of the Buduburam Refugee camp that thousands of Liberian refugees have lived in for up to 15 or more years. Many have died naturally in this camp, had children and grandchildren, yet others have returned home over the past five years. My sister-in-law, Ora Wesley, a lovely and hardworking young woman died here in Buduburam in July of 2008. This time around, I walked around trying to find someone who remembered her, but found none. That is how sad the life of a refugees is. Refugees are people without a home, and often, forgotten as soon as they die.

Over the years, there have been numerous incidents with Liberian refugees in Ghana. Most recently, a few months ago, there was an incident of rioting and a police raid by the Ghanaian government, and it was alleged that several Liberians were killed by the government crackdown. My question on this research mission to refugees I spoke to, both men and women was: Why can’t you just return home to Liberia?    

Liberian Attitude and the Liberian Refugee:

After my five day research trip in Ghana, I boarded the Delta flight to Monrovia, Liberia, on June 19, 2011. The plane had just arrived with hundreds of Africans from the United States. As I made my way to my seat that afternoon, a Liberian man, about my age or older looked at me as I struggled to fit my overnight baggage into the overhead bin. Instead of assisting me as any gentleman would, he wanted to know what I had been doing in Accra, whether I was leaving the refugee camp or whether I had simply stopped over from America for a short visit. I did not answer him until I was seated. Then I told him that I had stopped over to visit Buduburam Camp. He quickly began to laugh at me, looking at me with the kind of cynicism one would to put another down. “So, you living in America and keeping you children in the camp eh?” He asked, laughing. “You people sit in America and keep your children in the camp?” At first, I did not know what he was saying, but when it sank in, I was shocked. I was hurt. Did he think I was the kind of mother who would live in America and keep my children in a refugee camp? Did others do such a thing? And even if I was, why would he speak to me like this? I did not respond to his inquiry. I simply dismissed him because I felt too insulted for words, and if I said something to him on the plane as it lifted off the ground, they would have had to take me off that plane or throw me out the window.( Photos below are of my son and his friends at the party he held at the company house for me in Accra.)

Liberian attitude must change.


What the gentleman on the plane did not know is that I do have a son in Ghana, but my son is living and working as a computer consultant with a reputable company, independent, a young man who fell in love with Africa and moved to Accra on his own. In fact, it was his technical expertise that I depended on during my research trip. Above are photos taken at a welcome party my son, Mlen-Too Wesley II held for me, about forty of his friends in attendance that day. That was one day after he and I visited Buduburam, after we survived having our taxi cab taken off the road by police, taken to the police station in the scorching heat, waiting until the driver was clear. At Buduburam, my son, who was not a refugee,  recorded hours of video taping, took photos and helped me since of course, I am very unfamiliar with Accra.

(L-R- Aggie, Me, and Patricia, my son’s friends, posing with me.)

LIBERIAN ATTITUDE MUST CHANGE:

Liberian attitude to being a refugee, to refugees, to their homeland or returning home, and to what it means to move on after the war must be changed if we as a people will survive. During my one hour plus interviewing Mr. Gavivina Yao Tamakloe, the UN Manager of Buduburam, he said several things which support my belief. He indicated that his experience at the camp has taught him that Liberian women are some of the most hard working, dynamic and self initiative taking people in the world. He said that seven of the organizations on the camp were started and controlled by women. They are the care givers, the supporters of the families and that the men on the camp sit around all day and waste time. This attitude in the men must change. If they are refugees in such a horribly dirty camp, then how bad do they want life to be for them to get up and do something?

Another thing that must change is refugee refusal to return home to their own country even though many of them would be better off if they did. Those who do not want to return home also do not want to assimilate or become part of the Ghanaian society. They want to remain the camps or remain refugee all their lives unless they get a ticket to come to the United States. They know that there is no longer any resettlement of refugees to the western world, so many just want to remain in a camp and let life pass them by. There is nothing better than living in your own country if the alternative is living in the sort of refugee camp that I photographed above. Liberians who returned home have unfortunately settled in Monrovia, overcrowding the city while most of the countryside is empty, but that can change if refugees return to their original homelands where they were before the war.

More Photos of my better experience in Accra: My son’s friends.

The Liberian story of suffering and hardship is unending and must be told. One of the things that struck me about life in Buduburam or in any other refugee camp is that those who arrived in the camp nearly 20 years ago went on to have children who in turn had children. I wondered and was saddened by that. How can a refugee whose country is no longer at war explain passing on to their children the gift of a refugee status? That is what the refugees at Buduburam are doing to their children. They are leaving an inheritance of the status of refugee with their children. Why is this so? Is it because their home country does not have the suitable facilities the Buduburam camp provides?

I have documented Liberian women’s stories, collecting them for an anthology that I hope to publish someday. This quest to tell the Liberian woman’s trauma stories from the war has allowed me to interview dozens of women over five years, in Africa and in the US since 2006. Much of that research was supported by my university, the Pennsylvania State University. This year, the research mission to Africa was supported by two grants: Penn State’s AESADE grant, a collaborative grant that two of my colleagues, Dr. Lee Ann De Reus, Dr. Julia Hudson-Richards and I were awarded. I then applied for supplementary funding to augment the AESADE grant from the Penn State University’s Africana Research Center’s Faculty Grant, and obtained that grant. These two grants made it possible for me to travel to Ghana and to Liberia, where I conducted several workshops, trained teachers, recorded women’s stories and did radio and tv interviews and poetry readings. I am grateful to my university for this great opportunity to follow the stories of Liberian women and to be at Buduburam this year.

As I conclude this blog post, let me say that I know there are some who think I should go into refugee camps with gifts for refugees as my service to my country. But there are many who are already doing that, and our people are still stuck in that ugly camp after twenty years. Free handouts are not the solution to helping people recover. I believe that if someone is inspired by words and encouragement, by teaching and education, they can do everything they want to do for themselves. There was one objective I had besides collecting whatever stories I could get, and that was to inspire at least one woman about her worth. I wanted them to know that they can return home and live a better life. During my visit I did that. I walked them through my belief in them as the masters of their destiny. I was so glad when one of the women insisted on taking me to her shack to show me her papers and promised me she was returning home soon. Another woman told me that when she arrived at the camp, she was a young girl, and now, she’s old and needs to return home.

There was one young girl in her teens who had just returned to the camp from boarding school. I was saddened to see a child who went to boarding school where no one really feels like home and returned to the camp where not even her parents live. She, not photographed, came to me for advice. I told her that if she went to school and continued and obtained a good education, she would someday never live in a camp like this. Our people need the courage to move on, not condemnation. They need to return home, but the United Nations cannot give them $100.00 to return home to a land they may never have known or to a land they’ve lost.

My trip ended and I moved on to Liberia. Within a few days, I’ll be posting the stories of my time in Liberia. Come back and visit.

2001-2010- What A Decade! But Wait, Are We Going to Repeat the Mistakes of the Last Decade?

What is the iphone or the ipod to me if the people that I love cannot find food to eat, clothes to wear, water to drink or when their governments cannot be accountable to them? What is Liberia or Africa if Ivory Coast goes down to another civil war, if another horrific warfare starts up again in the region? What is the Presidency to Gbagbo or to Quattara if the Ivorian people are running all over the bushes, seeking refuge just because these two men cannot put the interest of the citizens above theirs?American Soldier in Iraq (copyright: overgroundonline.com)                 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake (wikipedia)

Haitian Earthquake (copyright: mirror.co.uk)

(New Orleans Disaster image below: whatchusay.com)

With the decade’s numerous civil wars in West Africa alone, the global warfare for and against Terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Drug wars in the Americas, the decade’s Tsunamis, numerous earthquakes, flooding, heatwaves, all to immeasurable degrees, it is a wonder we have all survived so far. Millions have however, perished in this decade, not only from the wars with their numerous massacres, but also the brain puzzling numbers of deaths in the Tsunamis in Asia, stretching as far as Africa, the Haitian earthquake alone, taking a quarter of a million down and the terrible wars in the Middle East. What has this decade been to us that we would want repeated in the next? Nothing. Yes, we have seen great successes in technological indulgences of the ipod, the i phone, improvement in electronic communication, including the use of cell phones in the remotest villages of the world, including my mother’s home village of Dolokeh that almost no one on earth has ever heard of, but what are these to the few of us who enjoy them when the entire world is in turmoil?

Nothing.


2001-2010 Has Been A Challenging and A Great Decade

In Liberia:  The Liberian Civil War finally ended when Charles Taylor was forced to leave Liberia for Nigeria in 2003. The Interim Transitional government under the leadership of the Chairman of the Council State, Gyude Bryant took over with the departure of Taylor in 2003. In 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first female President of Liberia and the only female President of an African country, thus ending fourteen years of warfare in Liberia.                  (Sept. 11 photo: copyright: scrapetv.com)

(copyright: ewshopper.sulekha.com)

Bones of Liberians dug up from mass graves in 2009 (above)

Night in Sine

by Léopold Sédar Senghor

Woman, place your soothing hands upon my brow,
Your hands softer than fur.
Above us balance the palm trees, barely rustling
In the night breeze. Not even a lullaby.
Let the rhythmic silence cradle us.
Listen to its song. Hear the beat of our dark blood,
Hear the deep pulse of Africa in the mist of lost villages.

Now sets the weary moon upon its slack seabed
Now the bursts of laughter quiet down, and even the storyteller
Nods his head like a child on his mother’s back
The dancers’ feet grow heavy, and heavy, too,
Come the alternating voices of singers.

Now the stars appear and the Night dreams
Leaning on that hill of clouds, dressed in its long, milky pagne.
The roofs of the huts shine tenderly. What are they saying
So secretly to the stars? Inside, the fire dies out
In the closeness of sour and sweet smells.

Woman, light the clear-oil lamp. Let the Ancestors
Speak around us as parents do when the children are in bed.
Let us listen to the voices of the Elissa Elders. Exiled like us
They did not want to die, or lose the flow of their semen in the sands.
Let me hear, a gleam of friendly souls visits the smoke-filled hut,
My head upon your breast as warm as tasty dang streaming from the fire,
Let me breathe the odor of our Dead, let me gather
And speak with their living voices, let me learn to live
Before plunging deeper than the diver
Into the great depths of sleep.

Translated by Melvin Dixon (Poetry Foundation website)

Léopold Sédar Senghor, “Night in Sine” from The Collected Poems, translated by Melvin Dixon. Copyright © 1998 by The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia on behalf of the University of Virginia Press. Reprinted by permission of The University of Virginia Press.Source: The Collected Poems (The University of Virginia Press, 1998)______________________________________________________________________________

(Sierra Leoneian Civilians caught in the crossfire in the civil war of the 1990s below)

The decade saw the end to many wars in West Africa, the gathering of forgotten bones and stories, the beginning of the rebuilding process and the beginning of new wars with the environment. As the new decade begins, let us not forget the people and the sort of heartless cruelty that plunged us into the most brutal of modern day warfare.

Some the historical events around the world include the election of Africa’s first female President of any country, Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the election of the first African American (black) President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama, the end of many wars around the world, the coming together of many nations to solve global problems, the closing years of the Iraq war, with the US and its Allies pulling out its troops, the invention of all kinds of technology, making it easier for us to communicate with relatives around the world, the use of blogs and armature photo journalism, thereby capturing stories that otherwise would have been lost and many many more great things. This has been a decade of great things and terrible things. If this decade did not prove to us that human beings can do anything they set their minds on, whether to killor to save, to destroy or to build to gain or to lose, no other decade will. The goodness of our world in this decade seems to equal our cruelty.

As I conclude this blog post, I am cautious of a new, brewing warfare in West Africa: The Ivorian unrest that is fast growing into a new regional problem. We again have on our hands, the Ivorian question. If Africa is shaped like a question mark, this is another time when that question again loams over us. Should the world intervene or should the world not intervene? Should one man step down or should the other disappear?

(Image copyright:   interalex1.blogspot.com

allvoices.com

In October, the Ivorian people went to the pulls to elect a new president, and after all of the counting and recounting, the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo did not win the election. His opponent Alassane Quattara was declared the winner.

Please recall with me that President Gbagbo became President in 2000, and has therefore been the leader of the country for more than ten years. His opponent, Alassane Ouattara, who comes from the North of the country has been declared the President against Mr. Gbagbo’s will. But the difference between the two men is not just in their ethnicity, but also in the support each has received. Gbagbo may be supported by his government which he has led for more than ten years, but Quattara is being supported by the powerful international body, including the US, France, the United Nations, the regional economic community, his neighbors, who will be immediately impacted by any uprising developing from this refusal to step down.

The question therefore  is whether Gbagbo, who has already been in power long enough will begin to think of his poeple who are already bleeding and fleeing the country as refugees. Or will he be like one of his predecessors, a man he had despised when he was a younger man, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of the Ivory Coast who ruled the nation from 1960-1993, when his death proved he could no longer remain in power as President of that country?

Does Gbagbo care about his country or not?


(copyright: heraldsun.com.au)

(copyright:westafricannewsinternational.com)

Speaking to a couple of friends from Liberia, I was stunned to discover that even they who are Liberians do not recall how our country went down for fourteen years just because some stupid political leaders refused to listen to reason. If a Liberian can support the Gabgbo’s refusal to step down, then no wonder Africa is in trouble.

Gbagbo, who has been in leadership longer than most democratic leaders around the world does not see that it is noble to step down and to allow peace to prevail. If he cannot listen to the UN and to his neighbors and to the ECOWAS nations, who will he listen to? As this new decade takes root, it is our duty as survivors of the various stupid wars around the globe to stand up against the kind of violence that characterized the last decade. We should not allow crazy people to destroy our world. After all, it is our world. I call on the UN and the ECOWAS community, the US and France to prevail upon Russia to join in and drive away Gbagbo before he destroys our people. His army may be strong, but with negotiations and diplomacy, he will listen.

Ivory Coast is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, a place that was a sanctuary to millions of refugees from Liberia and other African countries as wars ravaged our homelands in the 1990s and 2000s. My siblings took refuge in the Ivory Coast, and many of us used the country to escape or just fly out of when it was impossible to fly out of Liberia. The Ivorian people are very similar to us in culture, and in fact, I hear that Gbagbo is an Ivorian Grebo man. Well, if he is, I’m calling on him to end this crazy deal and step down. If he is a Grebo Ivorian, someone thrown into that part of the country by Colonizers, and therefore a relation of many of the Grebos in Liberia, it is only honorable that he steps down. This is not about tribalism, therefore, he should step down and allow President Quattara to lead the Ivory Coast into a brighter future.

The country is bigger than one man’s ambition, bigger than any one of us. Enough blood has been shed. Let us not make the same errors that turned our people into international refugees. The world cannot always come to our rescue just because we refuse to listen to reason.

One of the forefathers of Africa, himself a long ruling President was a poet whose vision for freedom of the black race and for Africa, influenced his poetics or whose poetry influenced his leadership. Here, below was Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal in another poem.

In Memoriam

by Léopold Sédar Senghor

Today is Sunday.
I fear the crowd of my fellows with such faces of stone.
From my glass tower filled with headaches and impatient Ancestors,
I contemplate the roofs and hilltops in the mist.
In the stillness—somber, naked chimneys.
Below them my dead are asleep and my dreams turn to ashes.
All my dreams, blood running freely down the streets
And mixing with blood from the butcher shops.
From this observatory like the outskirts of town
I contemplate my dreams lost along the streets,
Crouched at the foot of the hills like the guides of my race
On the rivers of the Gambia and the Saloum
And now on the Seine at the foot of these hills.
Let me remember my dead!
Yesterday was All Saints’ Day, the solemn anniversary of the Sun,
And I had no dead to honor in any cemetery.
O Forefathers! You who have always refused to die,
Who knew how to resist Death from the Sine to the Seine,
And now in the fragile veins of my indomitable blood,
Guard my dreams as you did your thin-legged migrant sons!
O Ancestors! Defend the roofs of Paris in this dominical fog,
The roofs that protect my dead.
Let me leave this tower so dangerously secure
And descend to the streets, joining my brothers
Who have blue eyes and hard hands.

Translated by Melvin Dixon

Léopold Sédar Senghor, “In Memoriam” from The Collected Poems, translated by Melvin Dixon. Copyright © 1998 by The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia on behalf of the University of Virginia Press. Reprinted by permission of The University of Virginia Press.Source: The Collected Poems (The University of Virginia Press, 1998) (This post from Poetry Foundation)

I wish my wonderful readers, friends and supporters, and even my critics a wonderful New Year filled with all sorts of blessings, a wonderful decade of peace and unity, a peaceful spirit to discern the evils of the world from the good.I also challenge you to stand up against any need for warfare.

Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001)

The International Poetry Festival of Medellin Celebrated 20 Years of Bringing Poetry to the People: A Cultural Revolution of Healing Decades of Pain from the Colombian War, July 8-17, 2010, and I Was There!

The International Poetry Festival of Medellin is always so amazing, neither rain, thunder or the blazing sun can drive away the thousands of lovers of poetry who pour in during the opening and closing ceremonies in any given year. The first sign of rain, and the thousands in the audience quickly begin to put on plastic coats, pull out umbrellas, sitting on the hard wet stairs of the Theatre Carlos Vieco to hear the World Poets read in their various languages one after the other, from 4 pm up until 10:30. Translators and poets, reading side by side while the audience cheers, screams, enjoying the power of poetry. For twenty years, poets have come and gone, children have been born, and have grown up under the warmth of this powerful tool of healing, and some of those young people are today volunteering with a literary revolution that gave birth to them.

This is inarguably, the largest, the most fascinating, most revolutionary, and most people-centered poetry festival in the world. The International Poetry Festival of Medellin was founded in Medellín in 1991 by two young, idealistic and practical Colombian poets, Fernando Rendón, who was also editor of the Colombian magazine of PIW,  and Gabriel Jaime Franco. Of course, they were assisted by a great group of poetry enthusiasts who banded together to establish what is now a cultural revolution, impacting the entire world over twenty years. Today, one of those hardworking poetry lovers is Gloria Chvatal, whose dedication to organizing and helping to run the festival is simply inspirational.

FOUNDERS: Fernando Rendón (R) and Gabriel Jaime Franco

Gloria Chvatal, a strong arm of the festival, Fernando, and Gabriel against the backdrop of one of the festival audiences.

With the powerful vision to reach their people through poetry, they launched a poetry festival that draws audiences from across the Americas, their neighbors  and from other regions of the world. They have featured close to 1000 poets from around the world, bringing in African, European, Asian, South, North, and Central American poets and poets from every region of the world. This year, I was invited for the second time, including my first invitation in 2007, to be a featured poet among one of the largest if not the largest group of world poets in the twenty years, nearly 100 of us, in a celebration worthy of itself. Again, as with my first visit to Colombia, the International Poetry Festival of Medellin remains the most powerful experience of any poetry festival in the world. Stay tune as I bring you various features, photos, video clips, etc.I in this blog posting. It is long overdue, but you will forgive me if you realize I had to get a new book out and begin readings to promote the book.

Medellin, 2007:

A Poem for Fernando’s Colombia (copyright “Where the Road Turns, 2010) By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
to God, I wish I could take out my heart for you,
but how will I sing this song to you without a heart?
You, with so much heart for love and poetry,
for hope in the eyes of the little girl
who with a scrap of white paper, wants me to say a word
to her, to autograph my name for her, to write it in her
name. She tells me with that unusual smile how
she loves my poems, but she is only eight years old.
She and Carlos, the five year old brother who have
pushed through the thousands to get to me.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
where we go down from the mountain
into the bowl of a city, into the deep heart of a city,
so warm, a city where people still smile
and clap to a poem, and cry for the war, a city
where concrete houses hold up the hills with muscles
of steel, muscles of pain, and somewhere along the roads
as the bus descends from the airport, the poor have
erected their own lives so sadly, waiting,
and yet, they overlook the city with hope.
From the edge of sharp cliffs and the side roads,
the burning lights and flames of the city, hard
and indistinguishable from anger.
But theirs is of the pain from the years gone.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
Waiting can be so hard, Medellin.
And I love you from my heart. I love your laughter,
your warm hugs and kisses, your Spanish, so simply
plain and warm. I love even your tears that
you have shared with me, when a poem I’m reading
touches you in that place where only a poem can go.
At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too.

Here, I am, reading with African poets in the beautiful Jardín Botánico. Theatre al aire libre on July 10: l-r: Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Niyi Osundare (Nigeria), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia) and Amin Haddad (Egypt), reading.

I was honored to read with, meet with, eat with, and be in the company of some of the finest poets in the world. Our poets came from every area of the globe, different languages and cultures, different world issues in their works, different looks, dress and cultural patterns, but we were all one in the use of poetry as a medium of expression of the sensibility of our unique people, and therefore, of the world.

Here, a group of us poets on our way to sight-seeing in Medellin, Colombia, were chased by newspaper crews who made us stand in the middle of a busy city street to take this shot, featured in the paper the next day. (L_R)Poets sJean Jacques Sewanou Dabla of Togo, Alhaji Papa Susso of Gambia, Lola Koundakjian of Armenia, Veronica Zondek of Chilli, Althea Romeo-Mark, representing Antigua and me, representing Liberia. Middle photo- Me and Althea Romeo-Mark, Me and Koumanthio Diallo of Guinea, West Africa, standing with an Afro-Colombian brother after our last Africa Reading.

Poets, Gemino H. Abad (Phillipines) and Imtiaz Dharker of India looking on.

I have been privileged as a poet to be in the company of Pulitzer Prize winning authors, renowned authors, even Nobel Prize winning authors and to be influenced by their unique ways of viewing the world. But the experience at the International Poetry Festival of Medellin 2007 and 2010 alone has been a life-changing experience for me. Let me discuss in brief the kinds of impact such a great festival has on the invited poet, the Colombian people and others from parts of the Americas who descend upon the city, and finally, upon the country, friends, associates of those who return home with this huge vision in their life experience.

A Life- Changing Experience:

The city of Medellin, Colombia, is a city on a hill, skyscrapers of the wealthy alongside the dwellings of millions of the poor. As in any other country, the poor find a means of survival. It is in the center of this city that has survived forty years of civil war that poets from around the world must all merge with their many voices of hope with the voices of hope from Colombia and nations around the region. The most exciting is not in the structure of this beautiful city and country; the most exciting for me is in the people of Colombia. They are a warm and beautiful people, vibrant in every way, their warm hugs and kisses will melt  your heart. But what will cause you to jump from surprise is their love of poetry. Upon arriving at the airport, you will hardly clear out of customs before noticing the crowd of volunteers, festival organizers and friends out at the Medellin Airport to meet you.

The hugs and kisses will be a regular part of your nearly two weeks of living in Medellin, basking in the beauty of poetry and culture. And then, another big surprise is the crowd at the opening and closing ceremonies. The number has been estimated at between seven to ten thousand out in the open arena, cheering, listening, shouting, enjoying the experience of one poetic voice after the other. If you are a first time festival visitor, your jaw drops, you wonder if it is real, whether you are now a rock star, and whether these great people have all lost their heads. But trust, me, it is real. They love poetry and they will change your world after this. This was when I realized that my coming to Colombia was meant to change me, not me, them.

Yira, my Spanish reader assigned to me at the 20th festival (l) Yira & me, Me, Norwegian poet, Erling and the Colombian team.

Images of the festival. Me at the Afro-Colombian center in Medellin, where I was the only presenter, Me after the reading with  and my girls after our reading out of town in Municipio del Carmen de Viboral. Casa de la Culturaon next to a quick photo from the car driving from Bogota Airport to the city of Villavicencio.

The Most Important Impact of Such a Festival:

The crowds of thousands who are dedicated to listening to poetry, reading poets from around the world, sitting in rain or shine, bringing their babies, toddlers, old people for two decades now tells you something about this country, about the visionaries of the festival, about how poetry, reading of poetry, and writing can be a powerful tool of healing. If anyone tells you that you can have such a literary revolution where people are dedicated to using words as a tool in healing produces small results, that individual is a fool. When you begin to mingle with the people, whether they are poor or rich, you will know the impact of the festival on the country, on ending violence. Remember, in case you forgot, Colombia has been in a civil war with drug lords and armed movements for more than forty years now. So, how is it possible to have such a peaceful festival when the country is supposedly at war? Well, my visit in 2007 and the 2010 visit indicated to me that yes, there has been a great change.

A group of young people who had come for our last African poets reading on July 16, stayed on after everyone had left, lining up to greet us. They were a force to see.


One of the most powerful evidence of how the festival is positively affecting the Colombian people in a powerful way is through the photos. I know of no other place in the world where thousands of people will sit to hear poetry read in various languages with translators reading in the pouring rain, people pulling plastic coverings over their heads, and just intent on listening, where mothers will bring their children, including infants with gifts to authors they’d never met, as if these authors are Priests needing to bless the children, they come by the scores to teach their little ones how important it is to learn, to be intellectual instead of being a rebel fighter. This to me is one of the most wonderful gifts any people can give to their nation. But we all know how much it must cost for organizers to raise the money to feed 100 poets, excluding staff, student volunteers, to give them all stipends, to give them lodging in individual rooms in a beautiful hotel, to tend to them when they are ill during the 12 day for most and more days for others, to help provide transportation from across the world for many, and to pay for the use of numerous venues, to fly dozens of poets across the country or drive them hours away. It is a powerful machine that must be recognized. We are most blessed to have lived this experience; hopefully, some of us will be inspired to emulate this great example.

Poets Saturate the City & Country With Poetry: A Dynamic Organization by the Festival Organizers:

Many of us poets had several readings throughout the 11 day festival. The poets included the following number:We were eleven poets from Africa: Niyi Osundare (Nigeria) Alhaji Papa Susso (Gambia), Arif Khudairi (Egypt), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Mohammed Bennis (Morocco), Luis Carlos Patraquim (Mozambique), Koumanthio Zeinabou Diallo (Guinea), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia),Jean Jacques Sewanou Dabla (Togo), Amin Haddad (Egypt) and Chirstopher Okemwa (Kenya). Some of us poets came from the Diaspora of Europe and America while others came from the continent of Africa.

After the African poets reading the 16th of July, the elderly gentleman was so excited, he came up to be photographed with us.

The audience waiting before the African reading. Above: After the reading photos

Among the 100 invited poets, less than hundred in attendance, there were beside us 11 Africans, 58 poets from the Americas, 10 from Asia, and 18 from Europe. Some of the poets I connected to include all on the African team (speaking French, English and Arabic), Althea Romeo-Mark, my American Lit. professor of long ago, Sir Howard Fergus of Monsserrat, Obediah Michael Smith of Barbados, Grace Nichols and her husband, John Agard both of Guyana, Renato Sandoval of Peru, Bob Holman of the US, Gemino H. Abad and his spouse (guest), of Philippines, Hala Mohammad of Siria, Lola Koundakjian, U Sam Oeur of Cambodia, Uwe Kolbe, excluding our very fascinating volunteer translators, interpreters. Special among the entire crew was my dear reader, the young and beautiful Yira Plaza Obyrne. Yira went with me everywhere to read the Spanish translation of my poetry whenever I appeared, and where there was no interpreter to translate my short speeches before the reading, Yira would step in. The only trip she did not accompany me on was the one to the far away city of Villavicencio.


Hala of Syria, making an early departure and that goodbye photo as the poets hurry through breakfast for another busy day


I had about ten readings throughout Medellin, reading in various venues with a team of four assigned different authors each time. I also had one solo presentation at the Afro-Colombian Center of Arts. My two out of town readings included a reading far into the Andes Mountains. This was one of the most fascinating of my participation. The Nowegian Poet, Erling Kittelsen and I were sent out to read in a far city of Villaviciencio on July 12, returning on July 13. I also had another reading out of town, with Armenian poet, Lola Koundakjian, just about an hour away to the town famous for its ceramic art, china ware. The town, Municipio del Carmen de Viboral.

Here are some connections in photos made during various readings:

In Municipio del Carmen, a five or six year old girl clung to me after the reading, telling me how much she liked my poetry and how she wanted to me to take her with me.


Connections to Children When Parents Bring Them:

Book signing after the African Poets reading in the Botanical garden that morning. Whenever there was a reading, the audience was so inspired and excited, they in turn inspired and excited us poets. Many in the audience came from various parts of South America. Besides these readings, I did a number of print, TV and newspaper magazine interviews.

Reading In Villaviciencio , Colombia:

When I arrived in Medellin on July 7, 2010, I saw that I would have to be driven to Medellin Airport for a one hour flight to Bogota, the capital city, and then driven to Villaviciencio for two hours. So on the morning of July 12, the Norwegian poet and I were taken to Medellin Airport to be flown to the high mountain city of Bogota. The driver, one of my favorite and the son of one of the founders of the Festival made the journey to the airport. To my surprise, the driver stopped by a mountain side eating/stop place and treated all of us to a beautiful lunch. We then took photos in the kitchen of the stop station.

The Driver The sign says 50, but hey.

The City of Villavicencio, according to Wikipedia, lies “in a rural zone of tropical climate… on the great Colombian-Venezuelan plain called Los Llanos. The city is east of the Andes Mountains. The Andes are a series of endless mountains that allows you to drive on clouds as if you were on a plane. I was so mesmerized, I took numerous photos as clouds swirled around the windshield of the car.

Despite its closeness to the vast Savannas that lie between the Andes range and the Amazon, you cannot drive from Bogota to Villavicencio without meandering through high mountains, long winding tunnels or feeling the pressure of the height of the region. According to the records, Bogota is the second highest capital city in the world, boasting more than 9000 feet above sea level. Right off the plane from Medellin, the cold chill hits you along with the pressure of the height. My allergies kicked in right away and I was quick to grab hold of my jacket. My Norwegian poetry colleague, Erling was a gentleman who quickly took my laptop from me as we made our way to the outside for the ride to Villavicencio. Our reading that night was at 7 pm, therefore, we became a bit nervous at being picked up fairly late.We arrived more than two hours later to an auditorium filled with more than 300 people, eager to hear these two foreign poets from different ends of the earth. Our Colombian colleagues and poet partners, interpreters, translators, including the Director of of Cultural Affairs were again as Colombians are, very warm, excited, loving, happy and welcoming. We were exhausted, but we went through quick orientations with our partners, which poems to read, gestures, what to expect, rehearsing quickly, hugs, embraces, laughter, and we hit the stage. Below are the photos of that evening, one of my last three reading evens of the festival.

Erling reading while I try to stretch my back on stage at our reading soon after arriving in this far away town.



Here in this photo are Erling of Norway, me, my reader, a Colombian young woman, a Colombian poet, Erling’s reader and the government official, Cultural Affairs Director, who hosted our visit and the Festival in his city. What a privilege it was for us to meet these warm people. Before the program began, the Colombian poet read a poem dedicated to me, presented flowers to me, a surprise, and everyone was happy.

Reading that evening in Villavicencio, Colombia

A Cross section of the hall that night.

The After Reading Photos: Folks are often excited after reading, and in this city, the norm was no different.

Kids who come to the reading ask the toughest questions. They know so much about poetry, about suffering, about war, and want to know how someone like me can end up not only in the US, but in a huge poetry festival. How did I begin writing, whether I like their country, and how I feel about returning to another festival. Often, they are accompanied by parents, also wanting answers. The most fascinating when the questions are posed is the warmth, the appreciation, and the open affection of the Colombian people, grateful to the visiting poet. There’s so much to learn from the Colombian people, from the International Poetry Festival, from their survival stories.

Afro-Colombian party.

Kenyan poet and a friend posing and photo from my hotel room porch with my visiting bird friend.

The visiting bird at the Gran Hotel visiting the visiting poets.

Bringing a Great Festival to Closure:

The last couple days of our stay in Colombia, many of us needed to go shopping, but the rain, the busy reading schedules, the lack of individual private translators, and of course interview schedules for some of us kept us from doing so. And yet, we found the time to slip out, some of us in small groups, visiting small vending places nearby the Gran Hotel where we were lodged. Althea, Grace Nichols, and others with me, joined the others, shopping for souvenir for our families and friends. We met the warmth of more Colombians in the market places, receiving small gifts and being recognized by the many who had followed us around the city. I took off on my own in between the beautiful hand-made jewelry counters, and came upon one Colombian vendor unlike everyone else I had met. He wanted to sell a necklace to me for 80,000 Pesos, but the necklace was worth 12.000 pesos, and I knew that. I could not speak Spanish, so I gave him a sheet of paper to write down the price. He did, and I asked him again to do so, and he repeated the price. I looked at him and smiled. “You are a big crook,” I said, but he did not understand me. I left him as he stared after me and went to the next vendor to purchase the same necklace at less than 12,000 pesos. In every beautiful country, you will see someone who is ugly, I laughed as I made my way bravely through the busy traffic back to the hotel where a journalist working for a French news agency was waiting to interview me.

July 17 marked the end of the festival; therefore, our hotel was ready for the last party with our own private dance group to shake up the place. Many of us watched for a few minutes and went to our rooms to pack. We would depart early for the airport, groups of us, coming from various regions of our one world, carrying in our hearts the one spirit of poetry, telling our sad and happy stories in stanzas and metaphors, the power of language that can heal and destroy, depending on how you want to use language. But here  in this mountain country, these wonderful people have discovered that words can be more powerful as a tool in forging peace. They have found the treasure of life, and have passed on this wonderful gift to their children over two decades, have brought the world to their doors, won hearts, and have sent us all out to let the world know that we have seen here is bigger and more wonderful than the negative propaganda that we’ve been told. As for me, I will never be the same again after meeting Colombia, after meeting the world at the festival, after sharing my own stories of pain and suffering with the Colombian people, after learning that love is not about what we have, but rather, about what we can give.

And so, the great festival ended on this note even as we poets sat around to watch the professional dancers do their thing.

(All photos are the exclusive right of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, and must not be used for any commercial purposes)

Links to Articles Around the Festival:

http://www.univision.com/contentroot/wirefeeds/noticias/8256821.shtml

http://www.festivaldepoesiademedellin.org/pub.php/en/Festival/XX_Festival/Prensa/index.htm




All My Travels: The Life of a Poet Isn’t as Bad as They Said It Would Be. Even Without the Money, Trust Me, You Still Have a Life, So, Com’on, Be a Poet if You’re Cut Out to Be

Every now and then, one of my teenagers jokingly says, “Mom, get a life!”

And I often say, “I’ve got a life, child, and I’ve got a good life that I’m grateful to have.”

One of my highlights prior to the OSU visit was my reading for the Fall for the Book Festival Reading in Sept. 2009: Here we go above and immediately below. Maybe I don’t have a life, but at least I have wonderful friends who love poetry.

It’s interesting when art and poetry merge: The woman in the painting is like a new competition in the world of poetry reading. I love this photo of her taking over the mic from me even though she’s only in the picture.

Associate Vice President and my good friend, Robert Killoren of Ohio State University, who was one of my hosts on February 25, 2010, photo taken after my talk on: “Travel Research and Writing: A Big World in the Small Storie We Tell”


A Chinese lady in the audience at the talk. She was one of the sweetest people I met on my visit.

Assistant to the Associate Vice President, Theresa, who worked so hard with the VP to bring me to OSU.

My African sister and a professor at OSU, originally from Sierra Leone, Miriam Conteh-Morgan, who was gracious to sit through the talk after she’d listened to my radio interview on NPR.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow U? I still want to be a poet when I grow up.

When I was a kid in Monrovia, Liberia, my father’s company of men and women would take a break from their beer, food and laughter to talk to us children. In the living room, near Capital Bye Pass or Warwien, where we lived, my father would call me out to greet his company of Grebo people, mostly middle class, affluent, Grebo people who had settled in Monrovia in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were now doing great in the Monrovia of the 1970s.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” A tipsy man or woman would ask me in the middle of the Saturday laughter, the bright Liberian, sun piercing through everything. “What do you want to be, baby girl? They say you ae clever, ” one of them would say, staring at me.
“I want to be a writer, a poet or something,” I’d say, often trembling, scared to death of my stepmother who didn’t like me very much.”
“A writer? A writer?” Someone in the group, sitting on my father’s plush sofa would rebuke.
“What kind of clever girl want-to grow up and be a writer?” They would roar with laughter.
“You should be a doctor or something, a doctor, I mean,” one of the men would add, and there was more laughing. All of this was said in impeccable Grebo, with all of the nuances and sighs a Grebo person is capable of. There of course were proverbs to spice up their disapproval. A woman these days had to learn something, they all agreed, not be some writer.
“She wants to be a writer,” my father would come to my rescue, “and that’s okay. I only want her to be educated, very, very educated so no man takes advantage of her,” he would finish.
“Girl, you need to grow up and be a doctor or some kind of big politician,” most of the company agreed, and I’d walk away to my room or to the kitchen or to the front porch, away from the suffocation of their adult world.

Emmanuel Wettee and the young Ms. Nagana after the symposium, snapped in this photo with me. It was a pleasure to have a few Africans at the OSU symposium talk.


I wondered all through my childhood and adolescence what was wrong with becoming a writer. Why did people think a poet or a writer wasn’t important just because doctors make money and poets didn’t?
“Or maybe you can become a teacher so you don’t have to starve while you write,” another of the visitors would follow me with one last comment even as I fled their company. I didn’t have much to say  since an African child was not supposed to express strong opinions in such a situation.

Daughter of Dr. Nanaga, young med. student at Ohio who took time out to attend my symposium talk, Emmanuel Wettee, one of the leaders of Liberians in the Diaspora at the symposium at OSU.

Dr. Ado Dan-Isa of Beyaro University in Nigeria, now a Research Scholar at OSU


So, I ended up being the writer who could have become a medical doctor, making money somewhere to feed me and all my relatives from my home town. If you know Liberians, then you know that they do not care about writers or poets or any such crazy folks like me. For most Liberians, you have to be a government cabinet minister or an important official if you want people to listen to you. But that’s one of our many problems as a people. Any nation that refuses to understand the importance of art in the life of its people is simply moving toward self-destruction.

Below is a link to one of my interviews at OSU. This link is to the one on NPR with Ann Fisher. Here is a photo in the studio, and then the one hour interview. Ann was one of my highest points, an exciting and vibrant interviewer who comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan. What a nice surprise to know that only in the studio.

http://www.spokenword.org/program/978685

The life of a poet or writer isn’t as bad as it was made out to be, I now know.

When I look at my life, the wonderful people I meet as I travel for poetry readings and talks from campus to campus, the wonderful students and lovers of poetry that enrich my life, I say, I’d never give up this for anything else. Where would a poet be without poetry? Where would the world be without poetry, you may ask.

A cross section of the audience at the poetry reading during my Ohio State Visit: It was an added treat when fellow poet and former grad student from IUP, James Barker came to the OSU reading with his students.

This academic year alone, I have been to several places, reading and signing books alongside my life as a teacher. My world is larger because of the many friends of my writing whose lives have enriched mine, and yet, I can still feed myself, which is a surprise. Often, I get bored reading my own poetry from place to place, bored that after I have written something, I have to go out and read it. But when I see the excitement of those who know how to appreciate art for its sake, I am encouraged. They bring a lot to the life that we lead.

Reading poetry at OSU

What do I tell my writing students? What do I tell fellow writers who enjoy this writing life, and often, this traveling life? Well, if this is your calling, don’t fight it. Use it to enrich some life, to bless the world, to be a consolation, to ask the questions no one wants to ask, to tell other people’s stories through your own eyes, to be there, simply, an ordinary writer whose gifts have nothing to do with intelligence or power.

And yet there were many other readings prior to this. Here are some of the past readings in brief. Sometime last year, there were readings for the Fall for the Book Festival as seen in these other photos, and of course, accidentally, with me wearing the same outfit. Being a writer does not often mean one will know which fashion to wear at an occasion, but here we go.

Signing books at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art Reading in Sept. 2009


My poet friend whom I admire a lot, Gabeba Baderoon and me after the Smithsonian reading in Washington DC

Liberian writer, Elma Shaw who attended my reading at the Smithsonian and took this photo.

My life as a writer is a small gift that comes from God, the power that only the divine can give. Why did anyone think that something was wrong with being a writer?

Another reading at Clarion University in PA. Daughter of immigrant Liberians, now a senior student on the left and her friend pose for a photo after my reading in Sept. 2010

See how short I am posing beside this Math professor at Clarion. He is originally from the Sudan.

I grew up to discover early on in my life that there were others out there who love poetry and writing, those who value writers. There were my professors, and of course, my father who taught me over and over that I had something to give to the world. There were publisher, mentors, other writers, struggling like me both in Liberia and in the US, who made the writing life worthwhile. I discovered that publihsers who edit the junk I write, magazine publishers who discovered me for themselves were far more valuable than we make them out to be. Without them, where would we be? Speaking for myself, where would I be if no one had said to me, “This is not good; this is good or this is trash.”

My hosts, Poet and Professor at Clairon, Phil Terman, who is a good friend of mine and Roger, both who worked diligently to get me to their campus. Where would the world be without poets who love poetry?

Poets are because many others out there are: Here’s to you. “Where the Road Turns” forthcoming.

Not too long ago, the publisher of my third book of poems, Michael Simms sent me one of the best e-mails I’d ever got, asking if I wanted him to look at my new manuscript of poems, and if I were interested in him publishing it. I quickly placed it in the mail, and now, we have a book forthcoming, and I say “we,” since I never consider myself to be the only author of any of my books.

For who will ever believe that those classmates, friends, fellow poets, publishers, professors, and mentors who have shaped us are not also co- authors of any one book that comes out anywhere in the world? A book is like a child; it takes a village to raise it, so of course, I don’t believe that just because I grew up thinking I would be a writer means I am a writer on my own island.  In fact, I’m still trying to be a writer, if you ask me.

I didn’t know that despite the lack of money from the writing life of a poet, despite the lack of huge grants as other writers are lucky to get, that I would indeed love my life as it is. My life has been scarred by tears, but poetry has been a source of strength simply because it is beautiful and those who appreciate what I do are even more beautiful. I once told my medical doctor neighbors that I am the only doctor on our street whose patients are a bunch of lines and mataphors arranged on a page, penniless patients of words and yet, it is these same words that may heal what a doctor cannot heal.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: (June 27, 1936- Feb. 13, 2010) A great American poet- May her soul rest in peace.

Lucille Clifton departed this life as we know it on Feb. 13, 2010, having lived the full life of a poet.

I studied her poetry during my final doctoral project towards my oral defense when I chose to study her connection to African poetry under the topic: “The Influence of The African Oral Tradition on Black American Poetry: A Connection Between Lucille Clifton’s Poetry and its African forebears, using Okot p’Betik’s “Song of Lawino” as a Source of Reference.” Now I treasure AWP 2009 where I last saw her.

Finally, let me conclude this blog post with a tribute to Lucille Clifton, a great poet, a mentor, a woman whose poetry life helped to show me that poetry is worth everything, that writing is a calling, and that no matter what, a poet is a poet for life. Goodbye, Lucille. We will all miss seeing you at AWP this year, but your spirit will linger here with us. We are, because you were and still are.

The Mississippi River Empties Into the Gulf

By Lucille Clifton

and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth’s body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

sorrow song
by Lucille Clifton

for the eyes of the children,
the last to melt,
the last to vaporize,
for the lingering
eyes of the children, staring,
the eyes of the children of
buchenwald,
of viet nam and johannesburg,
for the eyes of the children
of nagasaki,
for the eyes of the children
of middle passage,
for cherokee eyes, ethiopian eyes,
russian eyes, american eyes,
for all that remains of the children,
their eyes,
staring at us,   amazed to see
the extraordinary evil in
ordinary men.

[if mama / could see]

by Lucille Clifton

if mama
could see
she would see
lucy sprawling
limbs of lucy
decorating the
backs of chairs
lucy hair
holding the mirrors up
that reflect odd
aspects of lucy.

if mama
could hear
she would hear
lucysong rolled in the
corners like lint
exotic webs of lucysighs
long lucy spiders explaining
to obscure gods.

if mama
could talk
she would talk
good girl
good girl
good girl
clean up your room.

Stop All the Clocks: The Catastrophic Earthquake in Haiti, too Devastating for Words…Hold Up a Candle, Say a Prayer, Will You?

Tell all my mourners
To mourn in red —
Cause there ain’t no sense
In my bein’ dead.

Langston Hughes,
(1902 – 1967)

Stop All the Clocks, Bring Out the Mourning Cloth.

Looking at the President of Haiti in an interview on CNN at this moment, one cannot help, but feel deep sorrow for this leader. He is so confused, he does not seem to know what to ask for when the question is posed. One of the first things he said when the press man asked him what can be done to help his devastated people, he says, “clean up the streets…” Of course, he does not mean that. Even as he smiles, he looks so helpless, but he is the lucky one without a mansion or workers or people to lead right now as the chaos of the earthquake’s aftermath is felt by survivors and the world at large. All around him is devastation and ruin, dead bodies and nothingness. He is the lucky one however as thousands, perhaps, tens of thousands are still caught under the rubble. Hold up a candle for them, will you, and please donate to the Red Cross and other Humanitarian organizations who are of course, legitimate.

Stop All the Clocks

——–  W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Presidential Mansion in Haiti

There are no words to describe the devastation of lives, infrastructure and the lives of millions of people in Haiti. There is only tears just looking at the horror of human beings trapped in between shattered concrete in Port au Prince. Where there are flowers, they are insufficient to lay out for the number of dead; if there are mourners, their voices cannot sing the dirges needed to send off the dead. This is the sort of tragedy that makes one wonder, “What have they done to nature that nature bestowed such a pain upon these people?” There will be aid and support, but there will be no words enough to comfort the grieved families and friends. Burn a candle for the dead, will you. Say a prayer, send flowers, send money in to support, hold a hand and give a hug. Today, the tragedy is in Haiti; tomorrow, who knows where it will be. John Donne wrote Meditation 17 so well when he said, “No man is an Island.”


When W. H. Auden wrote Stop all the clocks, he was writing a specific poem. But for many of us, this poem has meaning again today. Stop all the clocks, do not go to work, do not pick up the phone and laugh. Do not let the dead lie still without a word or thought for those dead in Haiti.

Asleep.

Emily Dickinson,
(1830 – 1886)

As far from pity as complaint,
As cool to speech as stone,
As numb to revelation
As if my trade were bone.

As far from time as history,
As near yourself to-day
As children to the rainbow’s scarf,
Or sunset’s yellow play

To eyelids in the sepulchre.
How still the dancer lies,
While color’s revelations break,
And blaze the butterflies!

I Measure Every Grief

Emily Dickinson

I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled–
Some thousands–on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;

Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.

The grieved are many, I am told;
The reason deeper lies,–
Death is but one and comes but once
And only nails the eyes.

There’s grief of want, and grief of cold,–
A sort they call ‘despair,’
There’s banishment from native eyes,
In sight of native air.

And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
In passing Calvary,

To note the fashions of the cross
Of those that stand alone
Still fascinated to presume
That some are like my own.

Second Day of Mourning
—-Gaston Ng

The second day of mourning is always grey,
When the grandeur of elaborate pain
Fades into a comprehensible dawn.
The asthmatic morning laboured to wheeze a few
Competent breaths to last from bus to school.
A grim visage canopies a lurching heart that still stumbles
In the quicksilver and endless corridors of remembering.
Mourning seems such a vain thing.
It crys aloud to be seen, solicits pity with
Conscious tears and wanton dysphoria,
Damns an implosion with a paradoxical front.
Trudging up the overhead bridge that prevent dented fenders
And stubborn bloodstains on the roads,
The sweaty morning clings onto my skin and sorrow
Weighing with the symbolism of exertion.


President Barack Obama’s Quest for Peace Wins Him the Nobel Prize: What A Great Day For All of Us

DSCN0982

I woke up this morning to the sad reminder that just a day before, my father-in-law, Gba Saide Kwia Wesley had just died at the wonderful age of 94 in Monrovia, Liberia, a country that for fourteen years was denied peace in one of the bloodiest civil wars ever. In my tear stained memory of the day before, I went to my laptop just to see what was happening in the world. To my surprise and utter joy, President Barack Obama, the great President of the great United States of America, the son of a Kenyan man, the visionary that has already inspired many young black and white youths was now the latest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I was elated.

obama_front

Barack Obama may be the laughing stock of his enemies, but he continues to be the light and inspiration of many of us African immigrants, patriotic Americans, international people everywhere, and millions around the world. I was proud, and have not had a moment of regret for this win. I believe he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, and I am so grateful that he has accepted the prize. America is again on the radar of the world. This is a great day not only for America, but also for the rest of the world. This is a good day for many of us who believe in vision and hard work, those of us who still believe that hope overcomes all evil, that words are greater than bullets, and that no matter who you are, you can be anything you want to be if only you can hang in there long enough to reach the end. Barack Obama and his beautiful wife deserve to bring this honor to their people, the American people.

Give Back Peace

Give back father, give back mother,
Give back grandpa, give back grandma,
Give back boys, give back girls.

Give me back myself, give me back men
Linked to me.

As long as men live as men,
Give back peace,
Peace that never crumbles.

by Sankichi Toge
Japan (1917-1953)

Here is the Nobel Committee’s statement quoted directly from nobelprize.org site.

Nobel Prize® medal - registered trademark of the Nobel Foundation

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.” nobelprize.org (Oslo, Oct. 9, 2009)

mask

Despite all of the great things that President Obama has already achieved to deserve this selection, he was humbled and generous when he told the world that he did not deserve to occupy the same place as many deserving past recipients of the prize. Of course, this is a good thing to say to everyone, especially, to those who think that President Obama is not what he says he is.

Many of us who support the president believe however, that he deserved this sort of honor, and the world is better because he was awarded the prize. President Obama has given many of us the sense of pride in this great nation. I know that many immigrants have become citizens just in his short time in office simply because they now have a sense of belonging to a country they love. Many of us who travel abroad every now and then know the new feeling of reception that Obama’s leadership has fostered for Americans abroad. Many around the world are excited that there is a very simple, down to earth, caring individual in the White House, and are proud to be identified with the people of this nation. With time, President Obama will achieve his dream of fostering peace to the world.

Those of us from war-torn nations long for that dream to be fulfilled. It is important to us that anyone given the Nobel Prize for fostering world peace must be one that loves diplomacy and peace, one who is willing to be misunderstood in order to bring the world to a better place. President Obama does that for  us.

Many of us long to see the nations around the world enjoy peace, and we know that Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize for Peace will be another inspiration in helping him foster peace in the world.

As I pondered the surprising news this morning, I could not help connecting Obama’s selection for the Nobel Prize for Peace to Liberia and to my sad news of the death of my wonderful father-in-law, a man who lived the last two decades of his long life in a troubled country.

I could not help, but connect the world’s greatest President whose direct links go back to Africa, the great continent where majority of our people still live without peace, without the realization that there could be peace and how the Nobel Prize for Peace could be another ray of hope for us Africans. Unlike his critics and many admirers of the US President, I was not surprised about President Obama’s nomination; I was surprised that others were surprised at this gesture to a well-deserving man. I could not help, however, but remember the lack of peace in Liberia during the 14 year civil war, and now, Obama again was breaking newer ground as the third US sitting President ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace while in office.

Barack Obama’s win today is indeed an affirmation that black people are not only capable of violence as the stereotype suggests. No matter who wishes to argue otherwise, it is clear that the US President has touched the hearts of many around the world, and the Nobel Prize is one way through which the world is affirming him and the American people.

I am proud to live in these times. Congratulations, President Obama!


The End and the Beginning
…………………….by Wislawa Szmborska

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa-springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Again we’ll need bridges
and new railway stations.

Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens
and nods with unsevered head.
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.

From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out,
blade of grass in his mouth,
gazing at the clouds.

Wislawa Szmborska was a Polish poet. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Come, come, whoever you are.

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.

It doesn’t matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow

a thousand times

Come, yet again, come, come.

———————————– RUMI