“Poets Resist” – In Conversation with Dina Elenbogen

Dina Elenbogen (Photo: Jennifer Frankfurter)

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, look no further than “Poets Resist,” part of the ongoing Evanston Literary Festival (which continues through May 11th). The event kicks off this Sunday, May 7th, at 7:00 PM at The Celtic Knot (626 Church St., Evanston) and features a number of local poets who will be reading some of their own work as well as some of their favorite poems. Want to know more? Read on to see what event organizer and poet Dina Elenbogen had to say about how the event came about, highlights and more.

Andrew DeCanniere (AD): For those who may not be aware of the upcoming event, how did it come to be?

Dina Elenbogen (DE): That’s kind of a long story, but I’ll try to make it shorter. This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for a long time — long before this became a movement and before there was any sense that Donald Trump was going to be our President. I teach at the University of Chicago Writer’s Studio. I was talking to the Program Director about teaching a course — sort of poetry and social justice, poetry and resistance — but I have to say that it was a lot more abstract at the time. When I thought about the subject, I didn’t think it was directly about our lives right now. Last summer, I gave a talk at an open house of the Liberal Arts Program at the University of Chicago Graham School. The Program Director asked if I could speak about resistance poetry and, again, it was something that was much more abstract and distant from our lives. I was talking about Syrian women poets, Carl Sandburg, Muriel Rukeyser and Adrienne Rich — writers who tend to write out of resistance. That was really what I had been doing and thinking about.

Suddenly, after November 8th, when everything seemed like the world was turning on its head, there was this resistance movement in poetry that was born out of that, which was very exciting. It was unfortunate that the circumstances were such that brought it about, but it was already something I’d given a lot of thought to. When people started organizing in Chicago, I got involved. Woman Made Gallery was organizing just such an event, and they weren’t aware of the larger protest event that was taking place on January 15th throughout the country.

The flagship event was in New York City, with Robert Pinsky and Rita Dove and some other poets. When I found out that people were organizing in Chicago, I became involved with Woman Made Gallery and told them there was this larger event, and so they connected with that. There also were several other events throughout the city. Barrie Jean Borich organized an event at Open Books in Chicago, which was Chicago’s flagship event. Then, Bookends & Beginnings and the Chicago Book Expo got together and created an event in Evanston. I thought it was really wonderful, because it was so inclusive and varied. There were journalists and poets and fiction writers — people who we don’t necessarily hear from all the time — and so I was moved by that event in particular. I was just really honored to be a part of it. I’d just written something for Literary Hub. They were doing an issue on resistance writing, and I’d just written an essay about the election that I read at the event.

AD: Yeah. In an odd way, it sounds like it was very timely.

DE: It was, but I guess a lot of people were already in that frame of mind. It sort of proved something that I’d been thinking about for most of my life — the power of poetry and the power of the written word. I guess that a lot of people have become activists — and I have become much more of an activist since November — but I feel like this has always been my form of activism more than standing on the street or organizing. It has always been through writing. I felt grateful I had an outlet, a way to express myself. Organizing this reading in Evanston was a way to further that and not let that whole movement just die out.

 

Dina Elenbogen (Photo: Jennifer Frankfurter)

 

AD: And having this kind of an ongoing dialogue is certainly important — perhaps now more than ever.

DE: Yes. I was so pleased that there was an opportunity to do this again in Evanston, especially since there are so many amazing Evanston writers.

AD: Speaking of which, I was wondering if you could touch on some of the highlights of the event.

DE: Sure. One of the readers is Virginia Bell, who is an Evanston poet. I’ve always admired her as a poet, but then I heard her resistance work and she read some poems by other poets as well, so I thought that she’d be a great addition. Then there’s a poet and translator from Israel named Eran Tzelgov. His first language is Hebrew and I asked if he had any poems in English, so he sent me some. They were very powerful resistance poems and I thought that he has a very strong voice that hasn’t been heard much here. He’s a scholar at Northwestern and he’s a translator, so that’s more of what he’s known for. He has translated Lorca, Langston Hughes, Beckett, Chris Abani, and so I was excited to give him a chance to share his work with a larger audience. Another thing about Eran, which I should probably mention, is that he describes literature as cultural activism and says he sees literary works as social agents.

I’ll be there reading as well, and then there’s another Evanston poet who teaches at Northwestern, Ignatius Valentine Aloysius, who, in his bio, says that he is from the Indian subcontinent. He writes fiction, and he has some prose poems about the recent situation. He’s a songwriter and designer. I haven’t met him yet. I’m looking forward to meeting him before the event or at the event. So, he’ll be one of the readers and he graduated from the MFA program at Northwestern. I think he was a visiting writer at the School of the Art Institute this past year. Another reader is Mike Puican, and he’s an Evanston poet and writer. He’s a really powerful reader and he’ll have new work about what’s going on now. So, that’s the group. There’ll be five of us.

 

For more information regarding this event, click here. For more information regarding the Evanston Literary Festival, log onto the festival’s website or check out my interview with Evanston Literary Festival co-organizer Lynn Haller here.

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