THE BLOG

Read It and Weep: New Poetry Anthology Makes Grown Men Cry

10/04/2014 20:48 BST | Updated 10/06/2014 10:59 BST

Poetry touches hearts and minds even in our digital world.

As an art form it almost certainly predates literacy. Early poets performed their work, using the power of its tight structure, rhythms and cadences to stir their listeners, but also to lodge words in their memories

One of Amnesty's first prisoners of conscience was Angolan poet and doctor Agostinho Neto. He suffered terrible brutality at the hands of the ruling Portuguese authorities before becoming the first President of Angola. Throughout history poets are often amongst the first targeted by repressive governments, presumably because of their power to stir emotions and liberate ideas.

Being jailed, however, isn't a great poetry deterrent. Many turn to it for comfort in the darkest of times.

Guantanamo prisoners inscribed poems on polystyrene cups in the days before they were allowed paper. Malawian Jack Mapanje used his malaria tablets to write poems on the floor of his cell.

Soviet prisoner poet Irena Ratuschinskaya scratched verses onto bars of soap with a pin or the burnt end of a matchstick, memorised them and then washed them off. Realising Irina was desperate for paper, her husband wrote her abusive letters that he knew would be delivered, concentrating his messages into a small square that left a large blank margin for her to write. Such was her desperation to express herself through poetry.

It's because of that need for freedom of expression that we were delighted to be so closely involved with Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, a new collection of poems, published in association with Amnesty, where 100 famous men chose poems that bring them to tears, and explain why. Poetry's ability - no, need - to liberate and enlighten lies at the crux of why our human right to freedom of expression is so important. Tom McCarthy puts it well:

'... how people struggle to connect with art. And how the artist struggles to connect with his audience and remain true to... well, the truth. Regardless of the side you play for, citizen or artist, the need to reach out, to connect, to feel, and to affect is so satisfying and so elusive.'

Some might accuse us of sexism because this book excludes women contributors, and on the other side some may mock the very idea of men crying over poetry. But this is another reason why we felt it was important to be involved.

It directly addresses the assumption bordering on cliché that women are more emotional - weaker - than men. Yet the contributions are all written by successful, influential men (some with very tough images) who admit to crying. Many share deeply personal insights and experiences, all provoked by poetry. Their emotional honesty is a healthy contrast to the behaviour that most societies expect of men.

This gender stereotyping is dangerous because it represses ability and ambition, it encourages discrimination and it upholds social inequalities that are a root cause of violence. We hope that this anthology will encourage boys, in particular, to know that crying (and poetry) isn't just for girls.

Writing poetry - or responding to it - happens because people care. And it's our capacity for caring that underpins our human rights.

I'll leave you with the words of Wuer Kaixi, one of the Tainanmen Square protest leaders on the words that moved him

'...the people of China had long forgotten the ability to think independently. With his word, Bei Dao truly showed us concepts like... longing for freedom are so beautiful and worth living for, worth fighting for, worth crying for.'