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Great minds need to talk

In the lead up to our poetry spectacular, GROUNDation, we held a number of poetry workshops in the local community, one of which was led by Dean Atta (who also performed at the event). One of the exercises the group was tasked with was to write a poem to or about a relative with whom it was particularly difficult to communicate with generally or specifically about a certain issue. My poem was called, imaginatively, ‘We need to talk’. It struck me that honesty even in what could be a disconnected and anonymous piece of poetry was difficult, even before one encountered the prospect of sharing one’s own version of the truth with others. It took a pause, some poise and a quiet intake of breath before I volunteered vulnerability. I was unknown to most of the group and they were very supportive in any case, so the experience was fine; interestingly in that moment, whether my poetry was considered good or not became very much a secondary concern.

We do not always have the safety net, as I did, of being unknown or a collegial environment when attempting to communicate hard subjects openly and honestly. However tough, this kind of interaction which may result in anger and disruption can, if we are committed to navigating those hostile fields, reinforce and improve relationships. The reflection that is sometimes provoked can encourage us to be the best of ourselves. The GROUNDation poetry workshop for me then made the recent passing of the American poet Amiri Baraka, all the more poignant. Committed to, in his own words:  “struggle, change, struggle, unity, change, movement…” he was a controversial and inspiring figure in his own lifetime. A lifelong revolutionary, his prolific output formed an open and honest and continuous conversation with the American establishment and institutions, his own community, US domestic and foreign policy, his beloved New York City and the status quo. In my opinion Baraka challenged America to be the best of itself.

The work that Safe Ground has done with Common Ground (2010), Transitions (2012) and  GROUNDation (2013), it continues to in all its initiatives, already embodying that same spirit of challenge-to try to have the difficult conversation, unbowed and unabashed. The Safe Ground way is to broker difficult conversations in a multiplicity of communities and collectivities where the resolutions will come to impact and influence policy on local and national levels. Baraka as an art activist was similarly engaged throughout his career. The somewhat trite and self-aggrandising inference that could be drawn from the Baraka analogy would be to say ‘Great minds think alike’. However, I think that we would say “No they don’t”. Like the American revolutionary Thomas Paine in his 1792 pamphlet ‘The Rights of Man’ (edition 2) said:

‘I do not believe that any two men, on what are called doctrinal points, think alike who think at all. It is only those who have not thought that appear to agree.’

Precisely why, great minds need to talk.

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