Setu Lit Fest, May 25, 2019: In the eyes of the poet-editor Sharon Berg

 I do want to thank the organizers and everyone else, so much, for your hospitality and for giving me the time to share my work at your seminar/conference in Toronto on May 25th, 2019. There are some ideas that just cannot be held down, and Setu Magazine strikes me in that way. Yes, it is becoming like a bridge between cultures already, in just three years. I was really pleased to be a part of your exploration of that idea yesterday. When we gather with the same goal, we can achieve far more than simply working as individuals. If we want to communicate with all of humanity, naturally it must be a cross-cultural endeavor.
            I believe that literature is vitally important to the delivery of a different worldview to peoples around the globe than our ‘post-industrial’ society has given us to date. Literature, in any culture, or storytelling through various language arts, has been a channel for the delivery of some of our most important concepts for thousands of years. It has a proven history. As I said at the conference, as someone raised in the ‘dominant culture’ of Canada from the 1950s onward, I challenged myself to explore the worldview of the First Nations of this land. I believe that when one explores another culture with an open heart, especially when one dips into an understanding of the roots of their language, it is possible to see the damage that one’s own culture can do to others. I did that. Seeing through the eyes of even just one other culture, it was possible for me to understand how important it is for everyone to gain even a small glimpse of the many other worlds that are inhabited by people on this planet.
            When I was a child of maybe five years old, my eleven-year-old brother told me he had just read a theory about reality. (My brother is also a writer, though he is now on a different path than I am.) As an eleven-year-old, he said it was possible that there was another world, that existed in the same space as ours but on a different time frame, so we could not see the people who lived in it. He was reading science fiction at the time and he was someone with an intelligence far beyond his years. He went on to explain that he understood those other people might even be standing in the same place as we were, but they were living at a different frequency because they had a different experience of time and place. That was one explanation for ghosts, he said, that every now and again time slips so we catch a glimpse of those other people. At that time, living in Georgetown, Ontario, we were surrounded by people who all looked like us, which is why I think the parallel world suggested ghosts rather than other cultures. He went on to explain the idea by suggesting a radio can only bring in one station at a time, but there are many different stations on the dial.
            As an adult, having the experience of many other culture groups mixing with my own in modern Canadian society, I am surrounded by a sea of similar and different faces. At this point in time, I see culture as similar to a radio station in the way that it projects a framework for a people’s worldview. It directs how we experience the world, controlling what we see and do not see of each other. Consider that each culture creates an invisible bubble around its citizens. It is not that human beings are born to be cruel to one another by nature, but in the worldview that I was raised with, one sees other human beings on a scale, a pyramid, with some people being placed at a subhuman level. It is easy to understand that money only exacerbates the differences in people’s opportunities, and therefore guides their experiences in the world. The same applies when we use other things to identify a difference in groups of people, such as culture. People who use that pyramid, who don’t challenge the idea of regulating people to different levels or quality of life, can justify doing incredible things to ‘the other’, things that most people cannot hold in their conscious mind because they are so abhorrent and brutal. Yet our worldviews can also make us treat each other wonderfully, celebrating the best of human nature through our knowledgeable connections with one another. In that way, I see culture as the framework for that theory my brother was telling me about as a child. Some people have had the opportunity to listen to different stations on the radio, or experience different cultures, while others are still stuck listening to one radio station.
            This is how I grapple with the idea that humans from different groups might be living in the same place, the same territory on earth, but experiencing life on such a different frequency that they are unable to experience each other as full human beings. It is admittedly a simplistic explanation, but I offer it in the hope that it may help us to understand how to build that bridge between cultures that you and I both believe can be accomplished. Certainly, my study of the First Nations worldview, which regards trees as our elders (for instance) and plants and animals as our teachers, echoed with my inborn, natural tendencies, and forever changed my view of both people and this planet, and determined what I wanted to do with my life.
            The conference yesterday focused on poetry as a tool for building that bridge between cultures, but I believe the same tool can be found in traditional storytelling as well. I am not talking about the way that Hollywood tells stories, but the way that our elders shared important stories with us, the stories that told us about who we are in relation to one another, to the plants, to the creatures in the world, to the weather, and to the planet as a whole. Those are the stories that relay our purpose in life to us. So I frame my understanding of the purpose of poetry and storytelling under the term literature, using that term differently than many of my own contemporaries would use it.
This is something that Tom Gannon Hamilton (who you met yesterday) and I have had many discussions about. (I am really glad that I invited him to come yesterday.) Tom runs the Urban Folk Art Salon at Parliament Street Library in Toronto on the last Thursday of every month. He features three wordsmiths and three musicians each time. For his part, Tom connects to music in this way as well as words, referring to artists as people with ‘authentic voices’ …or not. I think Hollywood has reached a point where there is a saturation level of imitation. I see the visual arts as another way of relaying this same message carried by poetry and storytelling, or burying it in our cultural myths. Sadly, some people just don’t realize how deeply entrenched, how stuck in their own cultural bubble that they are. I believe that poetry and story can help us to communicate with them.
            In any case, thank you once again for inviting me to share my work. Please feel free to share this issue of my magazine with whomever you please. It is designed to be shared free.

- Sharon

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