Widely admired for her wit and mastery form that connects the classical world with contemporary life, A.E. Stallings addressed Europe’s refugee crisis while reading from her poetic work in a presentation sponsored by Peace & Justice Studies and Messina on Thursday, February 7.
The highly attended event created a packed house and attentive crowd for the lyric poet, translator, mother, volunteer, and wife, A.E. Stallings. Opening the presentation by explaining the difficulty of responding to events and issues happening in real time, Stallings was not used to using poetry to reflect on current events but gained a sense of power over social justice issues by doing so.
“My favorite poem she read was called “Empathy” and it described
the feeling of being thankful that your loved ones are safe in times of
distress. She says that ’empathy isn’t generous, it’s selfish’ and that
she would ‘pay any price not to be those who die to be us.’ This poem
is powerful because it says things that we tend to shy away from saying.
It is raw and real, as is most of what she discusses” (Caitlin Cobau ‘19).
Setting the scene, Stallings depicts her journey to the port near her home in Greece and shares the emotions and feelings that overcome her as she watches the refugees coming off the boat with the expression of both fear and hope in their eyes. Desperate to find a new life and fleeing worn torn cities in the middle east, Stallings notes that the refugees arrive by the thousands to the Greek islands with bare minimal luggage, mostly wearing all the belongings that they brought with them.
Challenging the audience, she asks, “If you have just 30 seconds to pack for a new life in a new country, what would you bring with you?” Stallings explains that for many of the refugees, the answer is instruments. “Instruments carry a tune,” says Stallings, “and refugee songs carry a tradition in Greece.”
With more cultural similarities than differences among food and music between Greece and Syria, Stallings concludes that the Greeks tend to be welcoming toward the new refugee population. This is most likely because many of Greece’s citizens, particularly around Athens, are first- or second-generation refugees themselves. Therefore, they are familiar and have recent memories of the hardships faced by refugees and the treatments that they face.
Looking to aid the refugees and assist with their transition into a new country, Stallings leads poetry workshops. The workshops were originally intended to cater as a migrant women group and have expanded to include refugees. She explains that it is sometimes challenging to teach poetry to women who come from languages and cultures where the art form is more respected and holds a deeper understanding. Sometimes feeling undeserving of the leadership role, Stallings also gains a lot of insights into language and poetry as she engages with the women in discussions about translations and becomes more aware of the struggles that the refugee women have faced.
In learning the role that Stallings plays as a social advocate for the refugee crisis in Europe, I challenge you to ask yourself and answer the question, “What can you do to help the refugee population present right here in Baltimore?”
Questions to consider after reflecting on Stallings Presentation:
If you have just 30 seconds to pack your belongings for a new life in a new country, what would you bring with you?
What can you do to help the refugee population present right here in Baltimore?
For more information about A.E. Stallings and her works visit http://aestallings.wixsite.com/aestallings.