In November, Dr. Salvador Peralta and Dr. Gregory Fraser blended poetry and politics in their presentation “Why Poetry (Sort of) Matters” for the Other Night School event series. While the day has passed, their topic remains vital to the rhetoric and curriculum of not just their current classes but for general posterity.
“I am by training, not a poet, so I was relying significantly on [Fraser’s] expertise,” said Peralta. “But we did collaborate in translation of poetry, especially of Latin American poets.
“So the process of coming up with a presentation about the value of poetry—What it means and why there’s some differences between why poets are highly regarded in some places but not others,” continued Peralta. “Particularly throughout the world, poets, generally speaking, are highly regarded or are riled and thrown in prison.”
Conversely, in the U.S., while poets are appreciated, there’s a lack of interest in poetry from the general public, thus Peralta and Fraser explored the contrast between the reverence of poetry in the States versus outside.
“In a country like ours where we have very well-oiled institutional machines, poetry really doesn’t have a place anymore because it fights to intervene and is largely ignored,” said Fraser. “In huge measure because there are so many other forms of free speech in the U.S. where there aren’t in a lot of other countries.”
For instance, Peralta grew up in Nicaragua under the Somoza dictatorship and experienced first hand free speech restrictions and brutal regimes.
“Poets in those places often have enormous impact and influence because they take it upon themselves to speak truth to power and they often pay the ultimate price for that,” said Fraser. “That’s what [Peralta is] especially astute about as a political scientist and as someone who survived the Nicaraguan Revolution.”
Nicaraguan poets were quite literally writing in a time where their voices would be suppressed and their lives endangered.
“In the United States, there’s a tremendous amount of free speech,”said Peralta. “I always find it really interesting when some of the loudest voices are saying ‘there’s no free speech in the United States, oh my god, free speech is dying!’ Yet, they are on the news saying that free speech is dying.
“If free speech is dying they would not be on the news saying ‘free speech is dying.’ They’d be dead,” continued Peralta. “Because that’s what happens in places like Nicaragua. You go to jail not on the news.”
Moreover, poetry holds an incredible power to shape societal opinions and also reveal hard truths for public scrutiny, naturally entangling within politics, but even then is sometimes glossed over.“
Looking into the United States, it seems to me that there is a competition for attention and interest in the producing ofcultural artifacts,” said Peralta. “From novels to all kinds of creative nonfiction to news.
“And then more recently, because of the internet, because of social media, because of all these new technologies, those new technologies have made it even more competitive of a field,” continued Peralta. “In a way, they have created a cacophony of voices where before, the very best of the poets would rise to the top. And still they do today, but there’s also a lot of other voices.”
A surplus of creative content may be competitively healthy but comes at the cost of overlooking many unique voices.
“Poets are always finding new and better ways of saying things with clarity and with power, and so that also doesn’t help,” said Peralta. “How they speak to people challenges people to think in a different way.
”For many, poetry touches the soul whether through exploring themes of beauty, frailty, or humanity. Yet, poetry also faces imposing stiflers like educational institutions and outcompeted by other creative mediums.
“We’re not really reading the poems along the way, we’re waiting for news of some kind of suicide or some kind of tussle with a politician,” said Fraser. “[Schools] have abandoned [Poetry] because its compression is difficult to teach, its figurative language is difficult to teach, its metaphorical leaps are strange even to teachers.”
Poetry and politics prove to be intertwined and in general shows how many subjects and disciplines are intermingled even if the subjects seempolar opposite on the surface.
Every semester, the Other Night School, which includes many diverse lectures and speaking events, holds an interdiscipline talk involving two professors from opposite ends of campus or contrasting subjects. This semester, the Other Night School’s interdiscipline event will interweave psychology and film with Dr. Alison Umminger, Professor of English, and Dr. Nisha Gupta, Associate Professor of Psychology on April 11.