Poet gains perspective by visiting Palestine

Acclaimed poet Susan Rich said in a talk at Seattle Pacific last Wednesday that she felt the need to travel to Palestine. Rich, who is Jewish, said teaching human rights in Palestine for 10 days gave her an interesting perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“How do you know what a place is? How do you know who people are until you go meet them face to face?” Rich said.

The SPU Israel-Palestine club and English Department sponsored the discussion. Junior Jessy Hampton, president of the Israel-Palestine Club, said the club’s goal is to feature different people throughout the year to speak on the Israel-Palestine conflict and present a balanced view on an issue about which unbiased opinions are rare.

Rich spent five days in the Gaza Strip and five days in Nablus, a city on the West Bank of Palestine, teaching on behalf of Amnesty International.

Rich shared with the audience some of her poems that relate to the people and the places she encountered during her time traveling for Amnesty International and the Peace Corps. She said she wants to use her poems to share the lives people live without exploiting their experiences.

“I’m trying to show an empathy, [and] I’m trying to share a story that might not be gotten out otherwise, rather than, ‘Look at me, I’m the poet that knows all these things,’” Rich said.

Rich has published three collections of poetry and received awards from PEN USA, The Times Literary Supplement, and Peace Corps Writers.

Hampton said Rich brought an interesting view to the Israel-Palestine issue.

“She’s coming from more of a creative English side,” Hampton said. “She brought a different perspective on this issue, and her time spent in Gaza speaks volumes of what is actually going on over there.”

Freshman Libby Silva said this approach was refreshing.

“I really like how she put all political things aside and just talked about her experience,” Silva said. “That’s what her poems are about. … Her point is, ‘These are human people, and this is my experience.’”

In 2010, Rich traveled to Bosnia and met a woman who talked about her experiences during the war. After writing a poem about it, Rich sent the woman a copy of the poem to review, to make sure it was OK for her to publish.

Rich emphasized the importance of having a personal connection with people to write about them. She said she always has to ask herself why she is writing her poems.

“Sometimes, I read poetry that is human-rights-related, and I cringe,” Rich said. “I want to climb under the table because someone is talking about the poor little Vietnamese girl and they clearly know nothing about that one particular girl. They’re using the clichés in newspaper stories and trying to make it real.”

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Title: Poet gains perspective by visiting Palestine | Author: Ashley Northrop | Section: News | Published Date: 2012-03-07 | Internal ID: 8100