Academic journal article Liminalities

Public Spaces and Global Listening Spaces: Poetic Resonances from the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in Mexico

Academic journal article Liminalities

Public Spaces and Global Listening Spaces: Poetic Resonances from the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in Mexico

Article excerpt

When a poem is placed in public space, it is placed within the reach of other people. Often, this happens because the poet themselves, or whoever else places the poem in public space, is looking to establish a connection to others: those who frequent such a space on a regular basis, those who come to it for the specific purpose of hearing or reading the poem, those who pass by accidentally and, touched by what they have heard or read, remain or walk away changed and with a different awareness of themselves and their surroundings. In his study Poetry's Touch, William Waters has argued that, often, poems do not even need to use the second person to enact this search for a "You." He argues that "it is context, rather than a vocative form or the pronoun you, which shows us that a stretch of language is addressed to someone" (Waters 5). In this article I will respond to a set of poems that were recited in public spaces in Mexico, in 2011, during encounters organized in the context of the first caravana of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD). Poets and listeners together created what I will call, with reference to Kate Lacey, listening spaces and listening publics, at a moment of escalating physical and structural violence, when what then-president Felipe Calderón and his allies called the "war on drugs"-also known as "Calderón's war"-compounded the effects of the war between the drug cartels and of a long history of structural and physical violence, and added forms of state repression that were "innovated" with a characteristically neoliberal lack of accountability, and with impunity.

Lacey develops the concepts of "listening publics" and "listening spaces" through a-profoundly critical-analysis of public speech and public listening practices in the Global North. She points out that

We normally think about agency in the public sphere as speaking up, or as finding a voice; in other words, to be listened to, rather than to listen. ... What is actually at stake here is the freedom of shared speech or, to put it another way, the freedom to be heard. But this formulation still puts the speaker centre stage; it is still formulated as the politics of voice. The presence of a listening public is simply assumed ... (165)

This assumption comes hand in hand with a "straitjacketed version of reciprocity, where a listener has the opportunity to become a speaker whose voice will carry equally far and resonate in just the same space, and without any delay or distortion" (Lacey 166). However, the agency that comes from public speech is only realized when speech is shared, as Lacey puts it. In the spaces we create for sharing speech, we can liberate ourselves from the straitjacket of prescribed assumptions and expectations, and we can expand the plethora of possible responses:

In fact, it is apposite to think of speech as resonating with the listener. Resonance is a property of acoustic space that is a form of causality, but not the linear causality associated with visual culture. Resonance is therefore about responsiveness, but it need not be responsiveness in kind, nor need to be immediate. A speech can resonate with a listener without the listener responding in speech. (167)

Lacey's critique and reflections-which refer mainly to the Global North- resonate strongly with the Zapatista practice of "speaking and listening." For them, public speech needs to be carried out by "speaking with the heart," which means to touch the heart of the other. "Listening with the heart" means that the listeners let the words of the Other-the speaker(s)-touch their own heart.2 For both the EZLN and the MPJD, listening lies at the heart of any democratic practice; and the MPJD, strongly influenced by the Zapatistas but located mainly in Mexico's urban squares, embodies the resonance between such conceptions of listening from different locations of the planet.

In this article I explore the implications of such resonances by bringing together some of the poems recited during meetings organized by the MPJD, and analytical concepts that have informed global academic debates on violence since the late 1980s: the relationship between interiority and exteriority in publicly recited poetry, especially with regards to the unsayablility of pain as theorized by Elaine Scarry; the conceptualization of precarious and grievable life proposed by Judith Butler in Precarious Life: The Politics of Mourning and of Violence (2004), and developed with specific reference to situations of war in Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? …

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