Mason poets join international voices on World Poetry Day

by Anne Reynolds

Mason poets join international voices on World Poetry Day

March 21 is World Poetry Day, and a group of Mason faculty, staff, alumni, and students—in tandem with poets around the globe—will take part in a 24-hour worldwide celebration of all forms of poetic expression.

Their efforts are led by Rei Berroa, a Mason professor of nearly 40 years and a celebrated poet himself, who has launched the effort with Dominican poet Fernando Cabrera. “On February 19, I sent the first call for participants to 84 organizers of poetry festivals around the world,” he said. By early March, more than 300 poets had committed their participation, including Julia Álvarez, Bob Holman, Jack Foley, Germain Droogenbroodt, and Paul Muldoon.

World Poetry Day came into being in 1999, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated March 21 as an “occasion to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing, and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media. As poetry continues to bring people together across continents, all are invited to join in.”

Berroa himself is an internationally recognized poet, the author of more than 50 books of poetry, anthologies, translations, and literary criticism in Argentina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, India, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Spain, the United States, and Venezuela. His poetry has been translated into English, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, Turkish, and other languages. He has been involved in the organization of poetry festivals and international book fairs in Mexico, Turkey, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Brazil, as well as in New York and in the Washington, DC, area.

For the World Poetry Day Festival, he has enlisted poets from a host of countries: Algeria, Argentina, Austria Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Closer to home, Mason’s participating poets include alumna Holly Mason, MFA ’17; faculty members Vivek Narayanan, assistant professor, Department of English, and the Creative Writing Program; and Lori Rottenberg, term instructor, English Language, INTO Mason; and creative writing students Joseph Giglio, Victoria Mendoza, Arianne Payne, Arpita Roy, and Jace Smellie.

Berroa was moved to create the festival in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “to lift the human spirit above the evils of imperialistic aggression.” He envisions the event as a celebration with UNESCO, honoring the diversity of languages and communication, as a way to support the people of Ukraine, and as a testament to the power of poetry.

“We would like to link the world with the spoken word,” he said. “We want to make sure that humans can have words to defeat hatred and ugliness and bigotry and ignorance. And poetry can supply that beauty.”

The World Poetry Day Festival will take place on social media, available for viewing on the links to the right. The event will begin at Festival Arte Vivo, in Santiago, Dominican Republic, at 12 midnight March 21 and will end at Teatro de la Luna in Washington, DC, at 12 midnight March 22, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), with Mason’s poets appearing at 10:00 am, EDT. Festival Arte Vivo and Teatro de la Luna are the two main co-sponsors of the event, with support from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

“There will be at least 300 poets linking the world,” said Berroa. “Linking the world with words of wisdom, dignity, and aplomb. Building mutual understanding, justice, and respect. At least for one day, poetry sowing layers upon layers of poise and balance in a world that seems to have misplaced its compass.”