American poets will read the works of dissident Turkmen poets on September 24 outside the Washington embassies of Turkmenistan, Myanmar, and Yemen to protest the censorship of poetry, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reports.
The event is part of the Day of Poets, in which poets are speaking out all over the world for “peace, justice, and sustainability.”
The readings of dissident poetry in Washington are being organized by Split This Rock (STR), a national network of socially-engaged poets established in 2008 and dedicated to integrating poetry into public life.
STR Director Sarah Browning told RFE/RL that American poets want to focus attention on countries where it is hard for poets to assemble, where it is hard for citizens to organize and promote change due to censorship, or where there is repression of poets and others.
“Poets often give voice to the aspirations of the people, to their hopes and imagination,” Browning said. “They are considered very dangerous by despots. Poets are often censored, or arrested, or worse. So we have chosen the embassies of three countries to stand in for every nation in the world where poets can’t speak out.”
She added that “too often our own government supports the regimes that silence the writers, poets, and citizens. We are speaking as much to our own government as to the government of Turkmenistan to say we need to stop supporting these murderous, repressive regimes. All the people everywhere need free expression and need to be free.”
Protest participants will recite poems by dissident Turkmen poets to draw attention to the regime of Turkmenistan, which she said has “a terrible record” on human rights and freedom of expression.
Works by Turkmen poet Saparmurat Ovezberdi, a former RFE/RL correspondent and the winner of a David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award in 2004, will also be read. Ovezberdi, who became a prominent dissident, died in 2009.
Turkmenistan has been ruled by authoritarian President Saparmurat Niyazov and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who became president after Niyazov died in 2006, since Turkmenistan gained independence in 1991.
The Turkmen government controls all media outlets and severely represses all forms of opposition to the government.