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Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote that poets were the "legislators, or prophets" of the world. Decades later, poet W.H. Auden disagreed. "Poetry," he wrote in his famous ode to Irish poet W.B Yeats, "makes nothing happen."
Michael Rothenberg, a 60-year-old poet and publisher who lives near Santa Rosa, Calif., admits that he leans more toward Shelley's assessment. And if the international response to Rothenberg's invitation last March for poets to gather in communities worldwide for social, environmental and political change is any measure, Auden has a lot to answer for.
So far more than 450 cities worldwide have planned 650 events centered around Rothenberg's call for poets to read their work Sept. 24. Salt Lake City's Mestizo Coffeehouse is among that number, with a full night of performances and readings from poets including Alex Caldiero, Hector Ahumada, Joel Long and Terry Hurst plus music from La Farsa, Ryan Cron and Cal Gleason.
Caldiero said the event falls in line with his long-held belief that poetry shouldn't be the sole preserve of scholars, or even self-proclaimed poets themselves. The art of verse, he said, supersedes religion, politics and borders. As such it's a reminder of humanity's shared fate and destiny.
"[Poetry] has been responsible for our humanity for the past 5,000 years," Caldiero said. "It's the force that, ultimately, keeps us alive as humans."
In addition to events across America, including 20 cities in North Carolina, the event will be honored in 30 Mexican cities. Poets in Cairo, Egypt, and war-torn Kabul and Jalalabad, Afghanistan, have also responded.
Rothenberg said video and other documentation of "100 Thousand Poets for Change" will be submitted and preserved in archives at Stanford University, which hopes to record it as a historic event.
No single event prompted Rothenberg to send out his invitation via Facebook, he said. Instead, it was a culmination of events, including the Arab Spring movements ending totalitarian regimes in the Middle East, the struggle over workers' rights in Wisconsin, and the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana last year.
"It all became background noise that became so loud it pushed me in one direction," he said. "I wrote it out of a dark night of the soul, so to speak. Now someone wrote me yesterday to say Alexandria, Egypt, is also signed on to the event. It's taken on a life of its own. I'm very surprised, but also very excited."
Poets call for change
Utah writers join international event, 100 Thousand Poets for Change event.
When • Saturday, Sept. 24, 7 p.m.-10 p.m.
Where • Mestizo Coffeehouse, 631 W. North Temple No. 700, Salt Lake City.
Info • Free. Call 801-533-0197 or visit http://www.100TPC.org for more information.