One of my professors often says that poets and kings do not get along. Tyrants know well they must destroy arts and literature for oppressive regimes to flourish—and so the dictators burn the books, rip the canvases, break the pens. They censor the means of resistance of writers and poets and painters and artists. It is a pattern we have seen over and over again: in Hitler's Germany, in Franco's Spain, in Pinochet's Chile.
The freedoms which American society values would not exist without the disruptive, revolutionary, intelligent artists and writers who dared speak out when elements of censorship arose. Yet we must remember that there is privilege in being able to speak, write, and paint, to articulate freely in times of hurt and fear. It is critical that those who can speak must speak—to amplify the voices of those who cannot, to lift those who have been systematically silenced through the oppressive institutions that catapult despots to power.
This country is not mine, but I know that it is bleeding. Within chaos, it is the work of artists and writers to find narratives. And so I take refuge in the words of this issue:
Why would I give up the physical world?
Today, it is all I believe.
And whatever addictions it sells me
(the first open mouth on my own teenage mouth)—
I am shy but impressed.
—Alex Dimitrov, "A Living"
How this, sparkler in the night’s black field, lighting up my brain
with love How did they do it before you ‐ survive
—Shira Erlichman, "Ode to Lithium #1: The Watchman"
Often I ask, But if I am American and my mother, wherever she’s from, is Black,
Does that not make me—Always I stop, knowing both answers.
—Charif Shanahan, "Asmar"
Twelve days after Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende in September of 1973, Pablo Neruda died. His words, however, transcend: Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera. They can cut all the flowers, but they can't stop the spring.
* * *
Syra Ortiz-Blanes is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania from San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is a founding member of the feminist Philadelphia-based art collective We Are Watching, and a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal.
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