Sunday, May 20, 2012

HUMAN MICROPOEM @ Protest NATO Rally, Chicago

The 2012 NATO Summit is currently taking place in Chicago, and as I need not tell anyone, the city's and state response to dissent of any sort, by groups and people affiliated with the Occupy movement, longstanding peace and anti-war activists, veterans, union members, and others on the left and left-of-center who expressed a desire to assemble and march without confrontation, has been really over the top. From the militarization of the police forces surrounding the site of the summit, the McCormick Place Convention Center, near Soldier's Field, including restrictions on access to major roadways and north-south routes; to an early-morning raid on Zoe Sigman's home in Chicago's Bridgeport section, which resulted in the arrest of 3 people, with 2 others arrested on different charges today, though alternative reports suggest that the arrestees have been framed or the charges have been trumped up as a deterrence; to violent responses to marchers over the last few days, including a brutal showdown at McCormick Place this evening, the state reaction to Constitutionally-guaranteed dissent has been reactionary and violent.  I demurred for a moment, I must admit, but only for a moment, before deciding to participate in today's HUMAN MICROPOEM, performed by a loosely-affiliated group of poets and performers sponsored by and affiliated with the experimental Red Rover Series, who have supported the Occupy Chicago movement in its earlier Federal Reserve of Chicago encampment mode, commemorated Veterans Day with a march to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, and staged guerrilla readings at this year's Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Chicago. More generally, "The Human Micropoem is a call and response choral form utilizing the human microphone at the occupy movements to amplify the speaker's words by those listening. The speaker says a line and then everyone who can hear repeats it."

I turned out to be the fourth of a quartet who convened as the HUMAN MICROPOEM from 11 am to a little after 12 pm, on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Jackson & Columbus, just catercorner to the major March and Rally to Protest NATO in Grant Park (and directly across the street from the rump side of the Art Institute of Chicago), a legal, permitted rally at Petrillo Bandshell, in the park, to be followed by a march toward McCormick Place, with the Iraq Veteran's Against the War (IVAW) marching  in solidarity and culminating in IVAW members of IVAW conducting a closing ceremony in which they planned to return their medals to NATO.  We Human Micropoets performed original works, including declaiming from a collaborative poem by one of the poets, reading dictionary entries (cf. "revolution," "peace," "action," "silence," etc.), offering impromptu chants, and reciting poems by other, well-known writers (June Jordan, Czeslaw Milosz, Thomas Transtromer, Lorine Niedecker, and Siegfried Sassoon) writing anti-war, pro-peace poems.  We drew a decent number of onlookers and participants, who arrived on their way to the main rally in waves, leading poet and organizer Jen Karmin to astutely time the readings by the lights. Cagean, as she put it. (For longer poems, of course, this presents a little problem.) Well-wishers included a tyke heading towards the lake with his parents, and numerous ralliers who stopped to take pictures and record us, as well as others who wrote up the event. A reporter from AP Radio even took audio, while a young onlooker assured me he would post the video of us on his YouTube channel. (It's not there but when it is I'll add the link.)  After the event, several of us went and sat on the lawn under a cooling bower, and chatted and listened to the speakers at the rally, whose crowds grew larger by the hour.  I had schoolwork to attend to, so I couldn't attend any of the several marches that were to take place. I headed back north, and it wasn't until a few hours later, as I was walking to the train and passed flat screens in the open windows of bars on Clark Street in Wrigleyville, that I learned that there'd been a violent standoff between police and the marchers south of the rally ground, and that the medal-returning event had also ended with brutal state response. The ironies are too numerous to list.

I do hope to continue the Human Micropoeming over the summer in the New York/New Jersey area. Among the many things it has clarified for me are how important public, social performances of poetry can be; that any sort of text, not just a poem, can work under the correct conditions; and that certain poems, particular ones that can easily be broken down prosodically and syntactically, that have a looser rhythm and shorter lines, often work best.  June Jordan's poems were perfect in this regard, and their severity felt in perfect keeping with the gravity of what protesters have faced over the last few years. Nevertheless, performing Milosz's "Declaration," I had to catch myself several times not stopping at the sheer power of his language, which, even somewhat atomized, still bore so much beauty and force.  As always, a few photos:

At the Human Micropoem performance, Chicago Rally Against NATO Summit
A rally participant photographing Jen (article here)

At the Human Micropoem performance, Chicago Rally Against NATO Summit
Peace activists who joined the performance

At the Chicago Rally Against NATO Summit
Marchers heading toward the rally site

At the Chicago Rally Against NATO
Grant Park, near the Petrillo Bandshell (Chiscrapers in the background)

At the Chicago Rally Against NATO
Rally participants relaxing near us

At the Chicago Rally Against NATO
Peace activists

At the Chicago Rally Against NATO
People distributing newspapers and leaflets

Chicago Rally Against NATO Summit
Rally participants

At the Chicago Rally Against NATO
As the rally site began to fill up

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