A Lenten Journey: The Sand Opera meditations (an open call)
I’ve wanted to find ways of connecting the work of this book with the work of other writers, artists, activists, scholars, and people of faith. After Sand Opera’s publication in 2015, Jayme Stayer, S.J., wrote to tell me that he had been praying with the poems as part of his daily Examen, the Jesuit daily contemplation. I was touched to hear that he had intuitively completed what my own morning Lenten practice over the Abu Ghraib testimonies many years before had begun; that these were texts that needed to be prayed over as much as read.
This Lent, beginning on February 10th 2016, I plan to share one poem per day from Sand Opera on my blog, Behind the Lines, as well as on Twitter and Facebook—as part of a digitally-collective fasting and meditation through poems. But I wanted to make this about more than the poems themselves. The poems are points of departure. I’m hoping that you might add your voice to this conversation by choosing a poem from the collection to write a short meditation? I’m thinking that short pieces of about 100-500 words that meditate on the poem through spiritual, political, ethical, or artistic lenses—whatever suits you. Let me know what you’d like to work with. Again, your faith or lack of faith are not at stake; I'm interested in your voice and what you'd like to say.
For example, a meditation on “Black Site [Exhibit Q]” could explore the meanings and politics of “black sites” in particular, or the problem of incarceration and the prison system in the United States, or the implications of entrapment on a more personal existential level. It could share suggested readings or suggestions for action. For example, for a poem about Guantanamo, it could share links to calls for closing the prison or Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir. However, I am happy with any way you wish to engage with the poems!
Further Background: Why Lent?
During a Lenten season many years ago—a forty day season of penitence and fasting in the Catholic Church—I awoke early every morning to read through and work with the testimonies of the abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. I wanted to face the darkness of this war, a war carried out in our names and in the name of our security. At some point, after poring over the photographs taken by military police at Abu Ghraib of their abuse of prisoners, although I am a poet, I decided that I could not write my way into or out of them. In some respect, to continue to circulate the photographs themselves, or to write poems from the photographs, would only complete the total objectification of the bodies and souls of those tortured Iraqis.
It was only when I stumbled on transcripts of the testimony given by the Iraqi prisoners themselves (thanks to Mark Danner’s book Torture and Truth) did I discover a way to slip inside that prison. The “abu ghraib arias,” which opens Sand Opera, began simply a way to be with those prisoners through reading their testimonies. However, I found the transcripts which were too painful for me to read straight through; the only way I could bear to read them was to work with them. So every morning, I sat down with a photocopied page and a yellow highlighter, looking for words and phrases that vibrated on the page, that seemed almost to lift up out of the page, and to trace my highlighter over them, bearing down with them, trying not to be suffocated by the story of torture.
Later, I would work with the testimonies of U.S. military personnel who worked in the prison, as well as the Standard Operating Procedure manual for the Guantanamo Bay Prison, to place the testimonies of Iraqis and Americans in dialogue—a dialogue that they did not have in life. The poems that resulted became part of a chapbook called abu ghraib arias, first published in 2011; years later, they became a pivotal section of Sand Opera.
This Lent project would be a circling back to that original practice, but also a widening to include all of your voices alongside the voices that made their mark on me.
Thanks in advance for your consideration! Let me know.
The following poems have yet to be "claimed":
In the name
His name is G
On the third day
First the man
The Blues of Lynddie England
The Blues of Ken Davis
Now I am
And it came to pass
Black Site Q
The new theory
What does it mean
In the wake of
On the flight
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