Teresa’s Weekly Update: The Difference Words Make

by Teresa Eyring

in Fall Forum,Weekly Update

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We must love one another or die.
W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939″ (1940)
We must love one another and die.
W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939″ (1955)

What a difference a word makes. Last week I took in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of Robert Schenkkan’s play about Lyndon Baines Johnson, All The Way, and thought about how LBJ used that poem of Auden’s in his infamous “Daisy” attack ad. The poem also found moving resonance after the 9/11 attacks, with its mention of “blind skyscrapers” and haunting phrases like, “the unmentionable odor of death / Offends the September night.” Written in response to the outbreak of World War II, the poem was later renounced by Auden in spite of its widespread popularity, and he changed the “or” in its most famous line to the bleaker “and.”

The shifting power of words to both heal and mislead has been on my mind since our past week of remembrance was marred by the violence in Libya and the political posturing that followed. Another poem, this time William Carlos Williams’ “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” seems apt, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Watching the news, I feel that miserable lack growing in our uncivil civic dialogue.

Yet I have hope, knowing the transformative power of empathy kindled by theatre; and so it is with great excitement that I share that playwright Katori Hall will give the keynote address at our 2012 Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge. Her visionary work in plays like The Mountaintop and Hurt Village makes Hall the perfect speaker to catalyze our charge towards a more inclusive and diverse theatre movement. Register now to take advantage of the early bird discount, and don’t miss the scholarship deadline of September 21.

We’ll also be sharing Forum models of inclusion on Conference 2.0, where the Gender Equality Group is building momentum towards achieving parity for women theatre artists. Email Gus Schulenburg to sign-up and then join in discussions about what benchmarks might best measure our progress.

Progress: another word fraught with the power to heal or mislead. In this age where one person’s progress is another’s outrage, how can our country move forward? I’d like to believe the answer can be found in the stuff of theatre and poetry, for if we must love one another and/or die, we must surely know one another first. That knowledge cannot be found in the news: it lives instead on Hall’s mountaintop, amidst William’s “greeny” flowers, illuminated by Auden’s “affirming flame.”