An Interview with Pilar Rodríguez Aranda: 100 Thousand Poets for Change

Saturday, September 24, will see 600 poetry events take place in 500 cities in 95 different countries to celebrate “100 Thousand Poets for Change”, a one-day event that organizer Michael Rothenburg of Stanford University describes as promoting “transformation towards a more sustainable world”. Although the idea originated in the US, one of the countries participating most enthusiastically is Mexico, which has seen a year of high-profile activism with the birth of the “Anti-Drug War” movement led coincidentally by a poet Javier Sicilia.

Although the events in Mexico will seek to raise awareness of a wide range of issues from “ecocide” to sexual violence, the country’s bloody and ongoing “Drug War” conflict will be high on the agenda. Events to take place in Mexico City and around the country include poetry slams, workshops, poems distributed to the public via car windscreens and other public places, and a “poetic protest” in front of the US Consulate in violence-torn Ciudad Juárez.

I interviewed the Mexico coordinator Pilar Rodríguez Aranda, a poet based in Mexico City, about what the event means for participants in Mexico and how she got involved.

How did you find out about the idea for “100 Thousand Poets for Change”?

I follow City Lights – the famous bookstore in San Francisco – on Facebook and that’s where I first heard about it. I’d been involved in organizing a poetry event in Ciudad Juárez in 2010 which aimed to promote awareness of the “femicides” [murders of young women] that have taken place there. I offered my services as a volunteer to Michael Rothenburg [Stanford professor and founder of the event] and he asked me if I could co-ordinate the event in Mexico City. I didn’t know it would take off to the extent that it has. This was really down to Michael, his passion and dedication to the project. In Mexico I belong to a group called “Against Violence, Art” which rallied to become a part of this. As a whole, the event worldwide will be the largest poetry event in history.

What is your own role as coordinator for Mexico?

Well, I’ve been serving as a bridge between the various organizations getting involved here in Mexico City, as well as other cities, and acting as a translator here and for other Spanish-speaking countries. I update the Mexico blog and Twitter account, which also has poetry on it promoting the idea of being against violence and in favor of art.  I then correspond with poets who want to take part and promote their events on the blog.

It seems like Mexico has a particularly large number of events taking place. How much do you think this has to do with the problems affecting Mexico right now, namely the drug gang-related violence?

I think it has something to do with the positives that can come out of protesting and expressing your ideas in a creative way, not just repeating slogans but using words to contribute something of beauty. Also, poetry movements in Mexico have really gained strength lately. Of course, the theme of peace or non-violence is more present here in Mexico because of the current situation. There is a great sadness among Mexicans that we don’t agree with the use of armed confrontation to resolve this problem. A characteristic distinct to the events that will take place in Mexico is that there are various groups participating that aren’t poets, such as ContingenteMX or Colectivo Kallejeros, to name but two. They are political activists but have responded very enthusiastically to “100 Thousand Poets for Change”. Another example is the movement “Stop Ecocide” whom I contacted when I saw that they had a national event planned for the same day. Although there are also going to be traditional poetry reading events, by well-known poets in theaters, there will be many unique events such as clotheslines hung with poetry, windscreen poetry, poems written on condoms which will be distributed to the public, workshops, and a documentary about street poetry. In Guadalajara there will be people riding around the city on bicycles and reciting poetry with mega-phones and in Ciudad Juárez there will be a poetic protest in front of the US Consulate.

This year in Mexico saw the birth of the Movement for Peace against the government’s “Drug War” strategy, founded by Javier Sicilia who is also a poet. How do you see the importance of such citizen’s movements in bringing about social and political change in Mexico?

I think that any movement that gives a voice to those who didn’t previously have one is important. “100 Thousand Poets for Change” doesn’t have anything to do with Javier Sicilia, it came about because of the need to express ourselves as a country where young people don’t have opportunities, which is also a global problem. I have no doubt that we need a new paradigm, some kind of true change. Also, the way that we feed ourselves and our relationship with the earth has to change. We even need a spiritual, interior change; we’ve survived centuries of terror and exploitation of men by men, women by men, animals by men, but awareness is growing that this won’t last if we continue on the same path.

And finally, what will you yourself be doing on the day of the event, September 24?

From ten in the morning I will be in Madero Avenue, Mexico City, marching from the Zócalo to Bellas Artes, accompanied by performers, musicians and lots of poets, reading and distributing poetry and inviting the public to join in, in the hope that they appreciate Gabriel Celaya’s quote that “poetry is the loaded weapon of the future.” We’ll be there until 2 o’ clock. Saturday night from 7pm until 10pm we will have an open-mic event at the Cafe Cooperativa Tzikbal in Copilco in the south of the city.

(Translated from Spanish)

The website for the international event can be found here

The website for Mexico with a complete list of events taking place around the country is here.