Voices of pain and trauma

19 Jan

As discussed in yesterday’s post about gender and violence, I think it is important to use texts to introduce students to worlds with which they otherwise would not be familiar.  While some of our students have pain and trauma in their personal lives, I am finding that an increasing number of students have it in their family histories.  For some students, members of their families fled or survived genocidal regimes, while others fled war torn countries, dictatorial regimes, and nations which suppressed the rights of certain groups.  I think this is something worth talking about.  While the intricacies of the conflicts are perhaps better discussed in a History class, the way narratives of suffering are constructed is definitely within the parameters of English!

I have used spoken word poetry and songs to great success in a range of classes, and have found it to be particularly enjoyed by lower ability students.  Why?  Probably because these students can hear the shifts in tone and pace that are missed when they merely read a text.  With that in mind, I am on a mission to beef up my collection of spoken word poetry and hope to focus particularly on the ways poets use spoken word to personalise and powerfully communicate horrors.

JJ Bola’s ‘Tell them (they have names)‘ is a wonderful example of a poem which engages meaningfully with traumatic events.  The poem begins with reference to “bodies” and “eyes,” language that denies that humanity of those who died.  The metonymic reference to “eyes,” in particular, is interesting, as eyes tend to be construed as the window to people’s souls.  Yet, here, the eyes are closed, suggesting an inability of those who are counting the dead to connect with them.  This inability to connect is affirmed when a number is offered to represented the dead.   However, the dead are not just numbers to everyone.  They are names, and people, and experiences and memories.  This point is powerfully made by Bola as he weaves intensely personal portraits between the seemingly unceasing stream of numbers.


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