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Art Collective Bombs to Heal Cities

By Grace E. Huckins, Contributing Writer

On the evening of June 26, 2012, London was bombed at it prepared for the impending Olympic Games. The act was not out of malice, as had been the case 70 years prior: this time, the bombs were poems, not weapons.

The Chilean artistic collective Casagrande has for the past decade staged “bombings” of various cities during which 100,000 poems, printed on bookmarks, are dropped from an aircraft onto the populace below. Harvard has no chance of experiencing one of these events, however: Casagrande exclusively bombs cities that have in the past experienced an actual bombing. This is not simply a sort of public art installation; it is an act of healing and recovery, said Casagrande co-founder José Joaquín Prieto in a discussion November 5 at Lamont Library’s Woodberry Poetry Room.

The first instance of this dropping of poems occurred in Santiago, Chile, over the La Moneda palace, which, Prieto explained, was bombed in 1973 during a military coup d’état. “The image of an airplane soaring through Santiago and releasing its bombs over the governmental palace became the symbol of the beginning of 17 years of military dictatorship,” Prieto said.

To Prieto and his colleagues, bombing the palace with poems in 2001 had particular personal significance. “The founding members of Casagrande…were born around 1973, the time of the military coup, so the bombing of the palace was both a creative response to our personal stories and a way to become involved in the transition to democracy,” he said.

A few months after the poem bombing in Chile, Casagrande decided to turn this personal project into something international that was meant to be deeply unifying. “We wanted to share this experience in another place,” Prieto said. Casagrande bombed Dubrovnik in 2002 and Guernica in 2004; Berlin and Warsaw were later targets. The sense of international connection in the bombings is reflected in the poems themselves: for each bombing, the poems chosen are in equal number by Chilean poets and poets from the country being bombed. The London bombing also involved poems from the 204 nations in the Olympic games.

The bombing of poems naturally creates worries about excessive litter and waste, but Prieto says that these concerns are completely unfounded. “Each time the poems have been released over a city, the crowd picks them up,” Prieto said. “People who receive a flying bookmark exchange them, turning them into items of exchange rather than waste.”

This sort of bombing would seemingly be a powerful experience for any community and a valuable opportunity to experience art in the company of others, but Casagrande has determined that this event will only take place in cities that have experienced an actual bombing in their past. “The experiences of the people who are there are truly important,” Prieto said.

Those people have also been crucial to the evolution of the project. Casagrande has for some time called the events a “Rain of Poems,” but a few Guernica survivors who witnessed the event there convinced the group to refer to the event as what it is. On the group’s website, the project is now called a “Bombing of Poems.”

For Prieto, there is no better vehicle than poetry to help a city move beyond its historical tragedy; it is an art Prieto finds both nationally and internationally unifying. “Poetry matters precisely because it speaks to the world and not to an individual person,“ he said. “It’s possible never to take up a poem in your life, but this kind of performance creates the possibility of reading and exchanging poetry.”

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