TURNING ON THE LIGHTS: How Poetry Can Change the World-by Wisconsin Organizer Lisa Vihos

How Poetry Can Change the World

By: Lisa Vihos


In the summer of 2015, I traveled to Salerno, Italy, for the inaugural confer­ence of 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC). Eighty poet-organizers came from across the globe—Egypt, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, and the U.S.—to share experiences, learn from each other, and discuss how to better employ poetry as a catalyst for positive change in a troubled world.

California poets Michael Rothen­berg and Terri Carrion began 100TPC in March of 2011 as a way to bring together “poets, musicians, and artists around the USA and across the planet in a demonstration/celebration to promote peace and sustainability.” They called for “serious social, environmental, and political change,” and put forth the idea that poetry can play a unique role as both organizer and messenger for social change.

Their message resonated with me during that difficult winter of 2011 when our state was gripped by a deep cultural divisiveness and rancorous political discussion. I signed on to 100TPC to start my own chapter in Sheboygan. Every September since 2011, with support from Mead Public Library, I.D.E.A.S. Academy, North High School, and a team of local and regional poets, our Sheboygan chapter has offered an open mic reading for anyone who wants to add their voice to the movement for social change.

Every year the audience has gotten a little bigger—we’ve gone from 20 people to more than 85 in our five years—while participation in 100TPC worldwide has grown over time to include over 600 communities in more than a hundred countries. My goal with the Sheboygan event has always been simple: to invite people of all ages and all walks of life to come together—poets and listeners alike—to share their thoughts about the world, to become aware that poetry does have something to say to us, to learn why poetry matters.

In Italy I met poets who use video, publication, performance, education, social media, and other vehicles to get poetry out into the world. My 100TPC colleagues and I ate lots of pasta, had lengthy discussions about the oral tradi­tion, and walked the streets of Salerno reciting poems. The experience was both educational and inspiring.

Having bonded with so many amazing poets so far from home, I vowed that I would return to Wisconsin and do more to reach out to my 100TPC cohorts here. In so doing, I have learned that while not everyone works under the name “100 Thousand Poets for Change,” or considers their poetry to be activist in nature, poets across the state use their words to light the way to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable Wisconsin and world…READ MORE at: http://www.wisconsinacademy.org/magazine/turning-lights-0#sthash.TWcs6yUm.dpuf

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