What does poetry have to do with peacemaking, and vice versa? On the Buffalo Poetics Listserv, poet Jim Andrews recently posted information about PRIME, a collaborative Israeli-Palestinian educational project that attempts to "disarm" the exclusivist aspects of the national narratives promulgated by each people. I highly recommend going through this webpage and checking out what courageous Israelis and Palestinians are doing to build peace and attempt to create the ground for peaceful reconciliation. What struck me, however, was not just that he was hosting the PRIME website, but that it was part of a larger website devoted to visual poetry (vispo.com), and I wanted to know how that came to be. Here's Jim's response to my inquiry:
A friend of mine, Sid Tafler, is a journalist. His folks lived in Israel. He would visit them several times a year. He met Dan and Sami during one of his trips. Sid asked me if I'd help him with the Web site. I just do the HTML and provide the hosting space on vispo.com.
But, yes, I agree the PRIME project is fascinating. Not only the Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative project--and its "disarming of the teaching of history" in the schools--but their other projects as well. For instance, they've interviewed a lot of old Jews and Palestinians--folks who were adult in 1948--with video, and filmed them talking with one another.
Their "peace-building" projects are truly inspiring. I admire what they are doing very much. I'm proud to host the PRIME site.
The connection between poetry and peace-building is multi-faceted, isn't it. Part of what poetry involves is seeing things from multiple perspectives. A precondition for peace is a willingness to entertain the viewpoints of 'the other', even 'the enemy'. It has been pointed out forcefully in the twentieth century that literature rarely has a humanizing effect, even when the work itself is profoundly human. I mean multi-perspectival,compassionate, illuminating of the individual and collective conflicts and dynamics. Because, as Paul Simon says, "a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest."
But it's precisely that which the multi-perspectival and compassionate seeks to penetrate. So even if poetry of compassion does not reach many people, its continuing existence and creation is important just as "peace-building" projects, as Dan and Sami say, are important to there later being "peace making" by the political representatives.