His poet friends asked him after Donald Trump was elected, how does this “post-fact” era affect them?
To be frank: poetry professor on parrhesia and resistance 022217 AE 1 Capital City Weekly His poet friends asked him after Donald Trump was elected, how does this “post-fact” era affect them?

Poet Roger Reeves reads from his book during a presentation at the Mendenhall Public Library on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Michael Penn | Juneau Empire.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Story last updated at 2/21/2017 - 7:54 pm

To be frank: poetry professor on parrhesia and resistance

On Valentine’s Day, assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois Roger Reeves asked those gathered at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library for a reading of his work to consider how poets should keep writing in a “post-fact society.”

Reeves invited the audience to take a ride on a “wander” or thought-train with no clear destination, but whose journey he had been on since the election of President Donald Trump.

We live in an era “where frank or determined or impassioned speech, its click-worthiness matters more than its veracity,” he said. “A world in which a presidential candidate, and now our president, can constantly make untrue statements, that when they are (proved) falsified ... what is held in contempt is not the lack of truth, but the challenging of that untruth.”

His poet friends asked him after Donald Trump was elected, how does this “post-fact” era affect them?

This began Reeves’ “wander.” Poetry is an art form invested in artifice by its nature (through use of literary devices like metaphors, similes, etc.), but tries to express a contemporary thought or moment, Reeves said. Poets express truths about themselves and the world filtered through their perspectives. A poet may use a simile to say something is like another, but another person could come along and compare that same thing to something entirely else. If poetry is fictive, how does it fit in this new era, Reeves wondered.

Reeves didn’t see why the new era should change how poets write, because for him, it wouldn’t be different. As a black man, what he saw coming out of the primaries and the election was nothing new.

Reeves read numerous poems from his book “King Me” that spoke his own truths. Many dealt with the experience of being a black man in America in a direct fashion. He was inspired to write “Cross Country” after he went for a run in college and a man followed, calling him a racial slur. Reeves took that same slur and turned it into a refrain embedded in the landscape he ran past.

“This is just the America some of us have been living in for quite a long time,” he said. “It’s funny. One of the things that happened is that we thought we were living in something new, and to me, it didn’t feel new at all … We have a lot of amnesia in America,” Reeves said.

Reeves used the Greek word “parrhesia,” meaning “free speech” and “one who speaks the truth,” to illustrate a poet’s task in post-Trump America.

Parrhesia puts the speaker at risk for being vocal, Reeves told the audience. Think of a messenger delivering bad news to a king, or in a more modern context, an undocumented immigrant speaking out to a congressman during a town hall.

“There is a need for more frank speech in our art, not less. I’m arguing for a poetic parrhesia,” Reeves said, stating this kind of poetry shows what is untenable in the past and will continue to be so in the future — truths that are undeniable once known. “Poems show us what the future should be. What is the change we need to be or see?”

When Reeves opened up the talk to questions, one woman voiced how emotionally and physically exhausting resisting the current administration’s political actions could be, and how she didn’t know how to keep up. Reeves responded by telling her everyone’s method of parrhesia isn’t the same; a person has to discover what works best for them.

“Everybody is not a front line bullhorn. Some of us are letter writers. Some of us are tenacious — I can call somebody everyday and harass them. Whatever is your sort of rock, whatever is your moment of interaction, do that … Just be your resistive self, and that will be enough. You will pull people with that.”

Reeves advised those gathered that any kind of resistance movement must progress past “the puppy love stage,” like the Women’s March. People should ask themselves how to keep that “love” sustainable.

“We have to ask what can we do locally, and how can we translate that nationally” Reeves said.

“Let’s go out and be brave in whatever we’re doing. Let’s be brave in our writing, be brave in our professing, be brave in our resistance, be brave in how we love each other in our day-to-day.”

Reeves was invited to speak in Juneau as part of a four-day Alaska tour by 49 Writers, the other events will happen in Anchorage and Fairbanks. For more information on 49 Writers, go to: