The Pen Is Mighty

Poetry Selections from PEN America’s NYC Rally

Art Spiegelman reads the lyrics of “It Can’t Happen Here” by Frank Zappa

Following our January 20 post about PEN America rallies across the U.S., Literati Magazine is publishing a selection of poems read on the steps of the New York Public Library.

As June Jordan once said, “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth” — never a truer statement than in today’s divisive political climate.

Cartoonist, writer and professor Art Spiegelman read the lyrics of Frank Zappa’s song, “It Can’t Happen Here,” reflecting the fears of many Americans that First Amendment rights could be threatened by a Trump administration.

An excerpt follows:

“…Who could imagine
That they would freak out in washington, d.c.
D.c. d.c. d.c. d.c. d.c.
It can’t happen here
Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba
It can’t happen here
It can’t happen here
Everybody’s safe and it can’t happen here
No freaks for us
It can’t happen here
Everybody’s clean and it can’t happen here
No, no, it won’t happen here
I’m telling you it can’t
It won’t happen here…”

You can listen to Zappa’s song below:

Former Poets Laureate Rita Dove (1993–95) and Robert Pinsky (1997–2000) likewise took a stand, as did myriad activists who read works such as “Kosmos” by Walt Whitman; “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost; Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day”; and “This Is Water,” a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace.

With Pinsky at her side, Dove read “Lady Freedom Among Us,” which she wrote for the ceremony commemorating the 200th anniversary of the United States Capitol and the restoration of the Statue of Freedom to the Capitol dome on October 23, 1993.

You can listen to Ms. Dove here:

Still another activist read “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou, which she herself recited at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration:

“…There is a true yearning to respond to 
The singing River and the wise Rock.

“So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew 
The African and Native American, the Sioux, 
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek 
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, 
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, 
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher. 
They hear. They all hear 
The speaking of the Tree.”

Robert Pinsky, “Library Scene.” Sculpture on the sidewalk of Library Way, New York

Sally O’Dowd has reported on PEN America research and other initiatives to raise awareness about threats to free speech. See Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World at www.sallyodowd.com. Join the #writersresist #freespeech movement by becoming a member of your country’s PEN Center.