Some at Occupy Boston have begun to focus more on the arts, from last week’s pop-up art show to a new series of poetry readings aptly called OccuPoetry, which Suffolk Professor Fred Marchant of the English department, an admirer of the Occupy Movement, has decided to get involved in. He has participated in both OccuPoetry sessions held at Dewey Square. OccuPoetry is organized by Susie Davidson of the Boston Globe and, while nothing is finalized as of right now, there are plans to continue the series every Friday afternoon. The most recent OccuPoetry occurred on Friday in honor of Veterans Day.
Professor Marchant is a veteran himself, having served for two years in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, until he was honorably discharged as a conscientious objector of the war – “one of the first Marine officers to ever have been honorably discharged” as such, according to Graywolf Press, a non-profit publisher. Marchant says he mainly objected to the senseless killing of innocent Vietnamese civilians, as can be seen clearly with the My Lai Massacre of 1968 in which nearly four hundred women, children, and elderly men were killed.
“This symbolized everything that was wrong with the war,” says Marchant. And he feels the same way about today’s wars. Still today, in Afghanistan and Iraq, Marchant sees the casual killing of civilians and the excessive collateral damage.
Marchant’s first book was published in 1994, and it was around that time when he got involved with the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMASS Boston. He has been reading and teaching with this center ever since. Through the William Joiner Center, Marchant has traveled to Vietnam several times. It is also how he got involved with OccuPoetry.
When asked why he admires the Occupy movement, Marchant says,”[For the longest time] we have been without a language for talking about the price we’re paying for social inequalities. Occupy Wall Street has been creating a language to name the sources and causes of our suffering. I also really like the multi-generational quality of Occupy. It has found something in common across years. We are not the same age but we have the same issues; we’re all citizens.”
He also raised a point in regards to the critics of the movement — he doesn’t understand why people feel that those involved in Occupy were just “supposed” to have a solution to these problems in our society — “the problems that the last five presidents have been struggling with. That just de-legitimizes it all,” said Marchant.
The professor participated in the first OccuPoetry session several weeks ago, and after having a great experience he decided to read again at the second one, held on Veteran’s Day. He was joined by about nine other readers; among them were students, professors, prominent occupiers, and those that were just visitors to Dewey Square for the day. Many of the poems did focus on Veterans Day and the Occupy Movement, but that was not at all a requirement.
Marchant read two powerful poems, one written by William Stafford, a conscientious objector of World War II, and the second written by him, entitled “Conscientious Objector Discharge,” from his book The Looking House. Conscientious objection, or the refusal to participate in a war due to religious beliefs, morals, or ethics, has had great influence on Marchant’s life, and it plays a prominent role in his writing, as could be heard with this poem. “You will need a lawyer to clear you, and a shrink to say you are sane, but they both know that already and are secretly glad to do something against this war.” Its words resonated strongly with anyone in attendance questioning our current wars.
Davidson says that she plans to continue OccuPoetry after having two great first experiences. They are planned to be held every Friday afternoon at Dewey Square, and they are open to the public. For more information about OccuPoetry and other upcoming Occupy Boston events, check out www.occupyboston.org.