Endangered Poetry Initiative
Declaration of Poetic Rights and Values
Welcome to our language
— Reesom Haile, Eritrean poet— translation by Charles Cantalupo
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all languages are created equal, endowed by their creators with certain inalienable meanings. These meanings are embedded in sounds and texts; in words, imagination, and the poems that bind them. Poetry is the distillation of language; the uproarious babble of human thought, and the engaging patter of consciousness itself—in all languages—all 6,500 of them.
As the Rosetta Stone encoded language, poems encode culture and world view. Both oral and literary poets are central to the ecology of consciousness, serving as transpondents of culture itself. As ways of identifying the features of a physical landscape, language is bound up with place; its loss marks an exile for the poets who express themselves in that language. And yet, across our fragile planet, poetry and poetic traditions are increasingly endangered as their vehicles of communication, the carriers of their art, the words that constitute their lines and verses, are forgotten or misunderstood. Some estimates indicate that more than half of the world’s languages will cease to be spoken within the next century.
There are nine different words for the color blue in the Spanish Maya dictionary but just three Spanish translations, leaving six [blue] butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth.
—Earl Shorris, “The Last Word: Can the World’s Small Languages Be Saved,” Harpers, Aug., 2000
Click here to read the entire Declaration in PDF format.