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The Blowtorch Readings

February 7, 2017

Please join us on Wednesday, February 8, from 6 to 9pm for the first in a series of Blowtorch Readings in the Ethnic Studies Room at College Library. The reading, with pieces appropriate for Black History Month, is a locally organized event and features invited participants reading aloud or imaginatively performing published texts or historic documents that “cut through the current national situation with the precision and intensity of a blowtorch.”

Selected readings include the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789; in French and English); individual and group readings of the United States Constitution (1789), the Bill of Rights (1791), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948); select passages from Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (1849); Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again (1936), Democracy (1949), and other poems; bilingual readings of poems by Dhoomil [Sudama Pandey] (1973, Hindi and English) and Mangesh Padgaonkar (1980, Marathi and English); a reading and a video performance of Zoe Leonard’s poem, I Want a President (1992); bilingual readings of poems by Yehuda Amichai (Israel; Hebrew and English) and Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine; Arabic and English), as well as writers from Turkey, Egypt, Somalia, and neighboring countries.

Vinay Dharwadker, a professor in the department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies at UW-Madison, organized this series. He explains, “More than at any other time in recent history, common citizens today need to fully explore and understand the freedoms and responsibilities of citizenship. As individuals, we must ask ourselves, what do we owe to the people we love, to our families and friends, to the places where we lead our manifold lives, to ourselves, to our nations, to our fellow human beings, and to the world at large?”

Literary texts, political constitutions and laws, documents of record, and ancient and modern classics everywhere give their audience the most precise and profound formulations of what it means to be citizens. They use “the best words in the best order” to reflect deeply on political crises and difficult times, on rights and freedoms, on moral conundrums, on abuses of power, and on the possibilities of resistance and transformation. As Dharwadker notes, “Such texts and documents have the power to speak to us and for us.”

The next Blowtorch Reading will feature a massive, collaborative round-the-clock event from 12 noon on March 8 to 12 noon on Thursday, March 9, emphasizing women’s texts and issues in a global celebration of Women’s History Month. Several writers/readers of international standing will use Skype to participate. And the final event in the series on Saturday, April 8, will conclude with a six-hour reading focused on poetry of protest and resistance from around the world, in many languages and in translation, in honor of International Poetry Month.

For further details and recommended readings, see blowtorchreadings.org.