Namaste! My name is Samyak Shertok. I am a native of Nepal, and I hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. For over a year now, I have been working as a Visiting Poet at the Mayo Clinic through Poesia del Sol, led by Alberto Rios, Regents' Professor and Arizona Poet Laureate. Three times a week I talk to the palliative patients and their families and afterwards write poems for them as lyric medicine. I was amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response I received. A woman who was waiting for a new heart said, "You bring back so many memories." A veteran who wasn't eating anything all day, reflected, "You were my medicine today." It's almost surreal to see that I am not only able to save the stories and voices that would otherwise have been lost forever but also provide the patients a certain kind of peace and relief the conventional medicine is unable to. When the devastating earthquake recently struck my home country, I was, like so many Nepalis living abroad, shattered and looked for ways to be useful to my home country. Then one afternoon while writing a poem at the Mayo Clinic, it occurred to me that perhaps I could help Nepal heal through a version of Poesia del Sol. And, Healing Through Poetry: Nepal Earthquake Relief was born.
The objective of Healing Through Poetry is to help Nepal heal and rebuild through poetry that at once embraces, documents, and transcends this historic tragedy as it is happening. It may be called Witness Poetry, even though I believe it's much more than that. I am well aware that there are other far more urgent needs, but I believe creating art out of this tragedy can help the country heal in a way the conventional relief packages will not be able to do. This project is being launched in collaboration with Fine Print, one of the fastest growing publishing houses in Nepal; La.Lit, a literary magazine based in Kathmandu; and Samrat Upadhyay, a recipient of Whiting Writers' Award from Nepal. In addition, I have been corresponding with The Kathmandu Post, a national daily, and others to become a part of this cause.
The structure and logistics of the project are as follows:
1. Next Summer (and possibly this Winter) I will travel to Nepal, visit the most earthquake-affected parts of the country, and go from house to house, talk to the victims, and write poems for them.
2. I will share the poems, pictures, and stories from the project on the project's blog.
3. In addition to a framed poem, each family I visit will also receive a small gift like a blanket.
4. I will run month-long poetry workshops (mostly for the age group of 15 to 25 yrs. old) where we will work on poems that directly or indirectly address the recent earthquake and its aftermath.
5. The class and I will do several poetry readings at various public venues around, and possibly outside, the Kathmandu valley where the attendees will be encouraged to share their own works as well.
6. At the conclusion of the project, the selected poems will be complied in a book-form. The book will be available as PDF, e-book, and paperback.
The tremors may be over, but what many do not realize is that for Nepal and the Nepalis the struggle for survival has just begun. Houses may be rebuilt in a few years, but it will take decades to heal the psychological wounds this disaster has inflicted upon the psyche of the Himalayan people. Through this project, I want to encourage people to accept the loss and death as a part of life by expressing their anguish, fear, and trauma in a creative way.
It will take Nepal a decade, if not more, to truly recover from this disaster. The unprecedented scale of destruction means it will haunt people for years to come. Nepal will never be the same again, but it is also an opportunity to bring forth some of important changes that are long overdue. Healing Through Poetry: Nepal Earthquake Relief intends be a reminder of the Hindu and Buddhist philosophy of impermanence, and no matter how deep and hideous a scar is, it can be beautiful too, if one knows where and how to look. Each poem will be not only be a time-capsule of this historic tragedy but also a testimony of how we persevered and overcame the seemingly impossible together through art and poetry.
Risks and challenges
The greatest challenge I see encountering in this project is convincing people that poetry can really heal and make a difference. Not enough people may believe in the power and impact of art and poetry to help people in any meaningful way. I will just have to be very patient and continue to believe in the power of words that I have loved all my life. But I will also need help from everyone who share my vision and want to be a part of this great cause.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (60 days)