The Disappeared Poet. A poem by Olga Stein


The Disappeared Poet 
(For all those courageous enough to stand up to tyranny, and for Mbizo Chirasha ) 

He is believed to have been killed by nationalist forces
in the midst of the civil war in _______.
She was last seen being removed from her home,
accused of incitement against ________,
a regime without tolerance for truth

So you know, I have become an obsessive collector
of scraps of news, grim signs and omens,
as well as voluble declarations of support, and
Internet links that lead me to volatile places,
and murky politics where dissidents sink out of sight.


I tell myself: A poet isn’t a shadow,
a barely there shimmer in the distance.
We hear the poet speak, and feel
a solid presence in the words we see 
even with eyes shut.

Confounded, I look for answers,
and picture a man or woman,
at a desk or by a window,
focused on a page or staring
into the distance. But there —

In that offshore refuge, this quiet gaze
materializes hopes and fears.
And though they utter truths,
such honest, private exposés, 
is art, not reportage, we say

The world has changed.
This is no cloak-and-dagger flick, 
Nor Cold War Havana, and poets
aren’t malicious spooks to be hunted
or, like Juan Gelman, the Argentine, callously banished.

Berlin has been made whole again,
Stalin’s reign is over (although the night
of murdered poets haunts us —
still, a poet can’t be disappeared
without reverberations felt worldwide, you see,

In the West, where we think ourselves free.
We cannot fathom the sudden absence 
or whiteout of disappearance, or imagine
erasure without a headline, 
public disclosure, or open letter.

This isn’t Fascist Spain, we repeat,
Recalling Lorca, and point out that
Chile’s bogeyman is also dead, and
Victor Jara was avenged when, after all these years,
Pinochet’s henchmen were convicted of murder.

We praise those with courage enough to speak —
Václav Havel, Nelson Mandela, among others.
But poets, you hear, don’t aim to
don the vestments of party leaders.
Instead, they pick up the mantles of other poets.

The gentlest of visionaries,
poets are solitary people, and
the most unlikely crusaders.
Their words are loadstars
or salves that soothe bruised souls.

Nor can poets be made to disappear (know this!),
for their writing survives and will resurface
like ancient scripts that speak to future generations,
like beacons in the distance, 
whose truths won’t be dimmed or silenced
however brutally and blindly some may try. 


From an “S.O.S for Poets: An Open Letter”:

“This letter is a cry for attention, a cry to fellow humans, including poets, all over the world, in Myanmar, Colombia, Sri Lanka and everywhere that words have been silenced, hearts stopped, brains bashed in. Why poets? Poets without borders. Poets as witnesses. Poets writing in the face of tyranny, saying no.” (Beltway Poetry Quarterly, May 2021)

Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie's first novel, Stillwater, will be released in the spring of 2023. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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