The numbers keep growing, and keep astounding: In the past three years, we're told, some 2.5 million people in Darfur have been forced to flee their villages because of attacks by the government and government-backed militias. And it's estimated that 200,000 more Sudanese have died in that time period alone.
But civil strife in Sudan is an old story, and Simon Deng lived it. Some 30 years ago, when he was 12, soldiers attacked his village, took him prisoner and gave him away -- as a "gift" -- into slavery, to a family in the capital city of Khartoum. A few years later, the teen-age Deng escaped. Eventually he emigrated to the United States, where he lives in New York City and works as two kinds of lifeguard: the kind you find on the beach, and the kind who campaigns for human rights.
Deng works to oppose the ongoing evils of slavery and genocide in his homeland. That means demanding that the world stop turning a blind eye to the persecution of Sudanese.
Deng will be a featured speaker at a literary and musical fund-raiser here on Fri., Oct. 27. Save Darfur: A Poetry & Music Benefit grew out of writersalliance.com, a Web site created by Pittsburgh-based poet Sankar Roy to solicit poetry about the Darfur crisis. Roy is a founding member of Poets for Humanity, which in 2005 published the international poetry collection Only the Sea Keeps: Poetry of the Tsunami, to benefit tsunami relief and rebuilding.
The benefit was organized by Poets for Humanity and poet and Carnegie Mellon associate professor Anthony Butts. Deng will speak, along with Heather Robinson, the New York Daily News writer who chronicled his story. Poets reading include Butts, Liberian-born Patricia Jabbeh Wesley and Richard St. John. There'll also be music by Umoja African Arts.
Proceeds will benefit Doctors Without Borders in Southern Sudan and Chad, and the Save Darfur coalition, which is working to end the genocide.
7:30 p.m. Fri., Oct. 27. Adamson Wing, Baker Hall, CMU campus, Oakland. $10 donation requested (reservations recommended). 412-441-8172 or JBauer103w@aol.com
In 1992, not long out of college, aspiring poet Christopher Bakken took a teaching job in Greece. Bakken -- single and "a hockey-playing kid from Wisconsin" -- fell in love with the sea, the islands, the mountains, the people. And in two years there, he didn't write a lick of verse about the place. That would have to wait until he went to graduate school -- in Houston.
Bakken's first book, After Greece, was all about the country he continued to visit at every opportunity. His second book reflects a more complex relationship. Goat Funeral, new in November from Sheep Meadow Press, takes place largely in a more allegorical landscape. A series of eclogues -- inspired by an ancient form relating a dialogue between shepherds -- are set, he quips, "somewhere between Wisconsin and Mount Etna."
The poems also owe a little to Crawford County, Pa. Seven years ago, Bakken moved there to teach at Allegheny College, and the rural setting suggested the Wisconsin sticks where he grew up. In Goat Funeral, there's a pervasive yearning for transcendence; yet gone is the tone of joy and praise that permeated After Greece. "We've seen bodies stacked like boulders, / men dragged like rakes, axed women," Bakken writes in "Eclogue." "We ape / some dream of life, aching toward what?"
"This is a 21st-century world," says Bakken, who'll inaugurate a new poetry series at Point Park University with a Nov. 1 reading. "These are poems that exist in the age of terror." 4:30 p.m. Wed. Nov. 1. JVH Auditorium, Academic Hall (Point Park University campus), Wood Street at Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown. Free. 412-392 3480
Drue Heinz Literature Prize
Realistic theme-park rides based on the O.J. chase and the siege at Waco; wrestlers costumed as Gore and Bush slugging out the 2000 election in the ring. These are a couple premises for short stories in Newsworld, the collection by Todd James Pierce exploring the ways we connect in a media-saturated world.
Writer Lee K. Abbott praised "Pierce's wit about and passion for our analogues, those folks, courtesy of celebrity or notoriety, we root for and against on CNN and Access Hollywood, the folks for whom Disney World is the real world."
Newsworld also won Pierce the 2006 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, as selected by Joan Didion. On Nov. 1, he accepts his award and gives a reading. Also reading is 1985 Drue Heinz winner W.D. Wetherell. 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 1. Frick Fine Arts Auditorium (off Schenley Plaza), Oakland. Free. 412-624-6506 or www.english.pitt.edu
"This is done at a particular angle. / This is done level, done plumb. / I am no longer a public space. / I am worldwide to no one." As in "Little Monogamy," the poetry of Ada Limón is angular, often cryptic, like writings from a dream space whose logic becomes more clear as they're replayed after waking. Her collection Lucky Wreck won Pittsburgh-based Autumn House Press's 2005 poetry prize. Limón, who lives in Brooklyn, hits Pittsburgh for three readings this week. Her visit to the Gist Street Reading Series is one of two appearances with fellow Autumn House poet Richard Jackson. Noon, Thu., Nov. 2 (with Ellen McGrath Smith at Pitt Book Center, 4000 Fifth Ave., Oakland, free, 412-648-1453). 7:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 2 (with Jackson and others, Mellon Hall Living Room, Chatham College, Shadyside, free, 412-365-1100). 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 3 (with Jackson, Gist Street Reading Series, 305 Gist St., Uptown, $5, 412-434-5629 or www.giststreet.org).
The Hopelessless of Love
Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
Thirty years now I have labored to dredge the silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser.
Sylvia Plath's marriage to Ted Hughes was, well, fraught. But they got some great work out of it! John Boskovic has edited the relevant poetry into The Hopelessness of Love: A Conversation between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, a full-length staged reading featuring young local actors Jennifer Tober and Joe McGranahan and directed by Yvonne Hudson.
Hopelessness draws heavily on Hughes' collection The Birthday Letters, poems addressed to Plath years after her death, some of which respond directly to specific works by Plath; Plath classics include "The Rabbit Catchers" and the above-excerpted "The Colossus."
The show, held in the chapel of Calvary United Methodist Church, continues the Poets Corner series, sponsored by Hudson's New Place Collaborations. The readings will be accompanied by live piano renderings of Beatles tunes contemporaneous with the couple's tempestuous relationship. 7 p.m. Fri., Oct. 27, and 2 p.m. Sun., Oct. 29. 971 Beech Ave., North Side. $15 ($10 students/seniors). 412-512-0589
Carnegie Mellon University's creative-writing program continues its reading series for CMU alumni with Marshall Klimasewiski. The fiction writer's got an impressive resume, with stories in such rarefied venues as The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, as well as literary journals The Yale Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly and Tin House. He's also been anthologized in Best American Short Stories. And he's got a novel out this year (The Cottagers, on Norton) and another book of fiction due out in 2007 (Tyrants, also on Norton). 8 p.m. Adamson Wing, Baker Hall 136A, CMU campus, Oakland. Free. 412-268-2850