Ludwig, Mark (editor). “Liberation: New Works on Freedom from Internationally Renowned Poets”, Beacon Press, 2015.
Having lived most of my life as something of an activist, I have always adhered to my personal slogan that none of us are truly free until all of us are truly free. While we have seen advancement toward freedom during the Obama administration in this country, we are likely to see a setback with the Trump administration but that does not mean that we are powerless to do something about that.
“Liberation” is an exploration of freedom as seen by many of our most celebrated poets. The book is under the editorship of musician Mark Ludwig who compiled this to coincide with 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps and the end of the Second World War. We know that there are many places in the world today where people are not free but oppressed and imprisoned became of their visions of what freedom should be. The camps are a reminder of the absolute anarchy of those who did not fit the Nazi idea and ideal of the correct kind of citizen and not only did the victims of this lose freedoms; they also lost their lives. As I said, there are still many in this world who do not know what it means to be free or have had their freedoms taken from them. The poems in this anthology explore what it means to be free and does so with writing from the world’s major contemporary voices. Among the poets are Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, Jay Parini, Yusef Komunyakaa, Agi Mishol, Tsering Woeser, Han Dong, Ernesto Santana, Richard Blanco and my dear friend Yermiyahu Ahron Taub. They share their poems on liberation and most of the poems that we have here are published for the first time.
“I wish I understood what liberation is;
but history seems to come down on this:…”
The poets show true artistic representation of the desire and need for freedom and they come from a range of twenty-five countries (and this can be understood as twenty-five kinds of freedom). They write about oppression, imprisonment, liberation, illness, immigration, war, memory, racism, nature, children, music and anything that comes to mind when they think of the word freedom.
“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers,
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others”
I once believed, like so many others, that the United States is the world’s greatest bastion of freedom yet we have Americans with nowhere to live and little, if anything, to eat. We have minorities who have yet to achieve full freedoms as citizens of this country and we have poverty, illness and disrespect for others and we are just part of a larger world where the lack of freedom in many places is great.
“It is the song about the child
Who was oppressed before he was born.”
Poetry is the language of emotions and freedom is both an emotional and real value. Poetry is also an art and to have so many artists looking at the concept of freedom is a blessing in itself. It is indeed interesting to note that we have Afghan women writing secretly of the freedom they desire as well as dissidents who share their memories of when they were free and their hopes of being so once again.
As I read, I found myself tearing up several times, smiling and laughing at other times and that is probably because the poems that are here were written from the hearts of the poets. There were times I felt that I was being slapped across the face and awoken to how others live and yearn. When we think of freedom, do we think of isolated cases of the lack of freedom that existed for Trayvon Martin and those imprisoned at Guantanamo? Do we think about children who cannot learn in school because they are hungry? Do we think of walking through a field of beautiful flowers? Do we even think about it all?
One of the reasons that this collection of poetry sat so well with me is that I am a frustrated poet and I see here those who can write freely of the greatest gift we can have.
“Small things are what call us to move—“
Among the poets here are those who are Cherokee, Palestinian, Cuban, Tibetan, Afghani, and Australian Aborigine voices. What they share in common is the ability to inspire compassion and to remind us that so many are not free. We do want to admit it but we live in a world of violence and anger yet there is also the hope for freedom.
“Move along, you don’t belong here”.
I can only imagine what is was like for Mark Ludwig as he read manuscripts and ultimately choosing over a hundred poems by over 60 poets from over 25 countries to be included here and to express what it means to be free. Because of the nature of the theme of this book, the poetry is quite heavy yet inspiring in its heaviness. Some may find some of the poems to be “too heavy” but until one has lived without the ability to be free, it is hard to understand what it is like to be not free. I found myself returning to this collection whenever I felt down and in need of some kind of inspiration. There are poems that can be shared with children and with lovers and friends.
Mark Ludwig is a Holocaust music scholar and the director of the Terezin Music Foundation whose mission it is to honor those musicians who were held captive at the Terezin concentration camp.
“The prayers of the fathers
In the buildings of stone
And in the public gardens of graves”…”The dove still has a chance”.
You will of course notice that I have randomly included lines from poems in the collection (without the names of the poets). Now that I look back at this review, I see that these lines are not so random after all. I purpose here was to give what we call in Yiddish a “forschpice” of what is in the book and hopefully get the reader to skip the appetizer and sit down to the full meal. It will not only fill you emotionally but will give you a great deal to think about.