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 amazon.com-Books 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 http://www.booksincanada.com). 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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