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Gathering Tries to Revive Poetry Power

June 24, 1991

CAPRI, Italy (AP) _ One of nine poets honored at a weekend gathering of some of the world’s leading verse-makers says film directors have in popular culture usurped the poet in ″keeping score″ for humankind.

″The great poets of our age are moviemakers, like Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, Federico Fellini - because with cameras they can outdistance and outshine poets who have to use words,″ said Canada’s Irving Layton, 79.

He argued passionately, though, for the poet’s mission:

″Poetry is your passport out of the hell of consumerism,″ said Layton, who read some of his works not far from the rocks where mermaids of myth charmed Ulysses. ″It is your refrigerator in hell.″

He also decried what he called a new class of young ″professionalized poets″ who he said are ″unable to fire up the imagination of their readers.″

″Their poems have no sense of smell,″ said Layton.

At the festival, Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, 80, was awarded the $10,000 Capri Prize for his life work. A Polish emigre, Milosz teaches at the University of California at Berkeley.

One of the stars of the three-day festival was Tahar Ben Jelloun of Morocco, who read his newly minted 600-verse poem about the Persian Gulf War. The poem honors the unknown Arab soldier, who is wrapped in a black plastic body bag, burned and buried in a common grave.

″In this war, the Americans and allies counted their dead, buried them with flags and ceremonies. But what about the Arab dead?″ asked Jelloun, winner of France’s most prestigious literature award, the Prix Goncourt.

″Also in death, some bodies are more important than others.″

The other poets honored were Lithuania’s Thomas Venclova, professor of Slavic languages at Yale University; Czechoslovakia’s Ivan Wernich, who worked as a stone mason and night watchman during Communist rule; Spain’s Rafael Alberti, at 89 the grand old man of Spanish literature; Attilio Bertolucci, 90, father of the movie director, Bernardo, and Joao Nunes Abreu, a lyric Portuguese writer from Madeira island.

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