Critically acclaimed poet Carmen Bugan gave a lecture on how poetry is influenced by politics on Monday, Oct. 8th, in Founders Hall.
She began by explaining how poets must balance their private and public identity when writing during a time of political upheaval. Literature, and poetry in particular, has the power to interact with the language of oppression, feel with those oppressed and imagine a way out.
Bugan chooses to write mainly about oppression, dissidence and exile in her poetry while attempting to answer the question: How can one offer a historical account of political oppression in poetry?
Having grown up in Romania as the Cold War was ending, Bugan experienced similar controlling methods to that of Nazi Germany. The secret police in Romania were tasked with consolidating power, controlling the public view and assuring the regime.
Her father protested, and her mother was under surveillance for marrying a “political agitator,” and still, her parents typed anticommunist flyers on an illegal typewriter and distributed them in hopes of inciting ordinary people to revolution.
In the early 2000s, Bugan was given access to an extensive archive kept of her family. This archive of information, totaling 4,500 pages, was gathered from close surveillance, including microphones placed in her home.
“If there is a legacy of this secret surveillance, it is the distrust of people towards each other,” Bugan said. “The language we were silenced by was cold, intimidating and practical.”
Despite the oppression, Bugan found a means of expression through poetry. She wrote poems about loss when her father was incarcerated and gave them to her mother and sister to read quietly so the microphones wouldn’t hear. She has continued to use poetry to help her declare her freedom.
The concept of using language to express freedom resonated with secondary education sophomore Rebecca Dubs.
“I really liked how (Bugan) said she can write herself free,” Dubs said. “I think it’s true with a lot of people in poetry, and it speaks strongly about oppression.”
Toward the end of the lecture, Bugan related her experience walking with her father through the prison he had once been incarcerated in. She found writing on the walls in the extermination rooms where people waited to be executed.
“People reached into language for words and had written prayers on the walls to themselves,” Bugan said. “This is what kept them human. Before torturers destroyed their bodies, they freed their souls.”
Bugan believes poetry must return to the place where its validity is born and give voice to the past. Listening to her father’s story showed her that oppression was taking place in her country largely because of silence.
Secondary education sophomore Mackenzie Baldwin was affected by Bugan’s perspective on the powers of language versus silence.
“(Bugan) said poetry is where silence has been imposed, and I think that’s important,” Baldwin said. “Poets write about personal situations, and it helps them through everything.”
Bugan’s prayer is that she can reach into the language of poetry so that freedom and oppression can have a fair fight. After her family escaped to America in 1989, they watched the fall of the Berlin Wall together on a television that was donated to them.
“This all gave me first-hand knowledge of the power of language,” Bugan said. “It can be used as an instrument of oppression and an instrument of knowledge.”