What Can Poets Change?

I just returned from a wonderful conference called 100 Thousand Poets for Change in Salerno, Italy. The event organizers and driving forces behind the international gathering of poets for social change are Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion of Guernville, California. Their idea? Invite poets and organizers from all over the world to gather in Salerno–to  meet, socialize, and network to discuss ideas for how we can all facilitate social change. And they made it all work in a beautiful place called the Santa Sofia Complex, the site of a former monastery now used as an exhibit center and a gathering space.

Unlikely, you say. What can poets change? I used to think that as well, back when I was an activist marching in the streets and demonstrating at politicians’ offices. Show up, resist, use civil disobedience—that’s how you change things. And, yes, that’s still a vibrant and important model for social change. But we’re not all called to engage in the same way, especially as we move through different seasons in our lives. The poets that I hung out with in Salerno are an eclectic, international group of activists who are using the power of words to change hearts. And often a change of heart is more powerful than a change of mind. This week and next week, I’ll be sharing stories of two amazing poets I met in Salerno. I hope the following story makes you smile.

Michael Rothenberg, Richard Botchwey, and Terri Carrion
Michael Rothenberg, Richard Botchwey, and Terri Carrion

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey is a bright, friendly, and kind young man from Ghana who has a warm smile and lots of wisdom to share. He impressed me with his story about being an orphan at the age of 7 and how he used his faith and determination to overcome all the hardships a child alone is faced with. Richard is one of those people about whom you might say, “He didn’t just survive, he thrived.” And Richard is passionate about taking his message of hope for orphans on a grand tour. In 2013 he published his memoir called The Tale of an Orphan: A Lesson To Learn and received much praise and critical acclaim for his personal story of triumph. Richard now works to help other orphans, especially in Ghana, and has established a trust called Orphan Trust Movement, which has helped over 10,000 young people in Ghana. Richard calls all of us to action with his quiet courage when he says, “You are the one who can stand up and do something to bring everlasting difference. …if you are not an orphan, you can still use this book to learn how to stop reflecting on the past and improve your life today.” Richard is changing the lives of orphans and many others with his book, his poetry, and his quiet determination.

Dear Readers, whose writing has inspired you? Whose work has touched your heart in some profound way? I love to hear your stories, so please share in the comments.