Joseph Bathanti, NC Poet Laureate 2012 – 2014

I was really knocked over by (OCCUPIED TERRITORIES), from all angles. The writing was breathtaking and so was the acting - and, Lord, the images and choreography. Completely unexpected and impressionistic, but hypnotic, haunting and very beautiful. The emotional voltage crackled through the room and I was swept up in it. I NEVER say I'm speechless, but at the end I really was. I felt thoroughly inarticulate, without language, yet something else was beating pretty profoundly in me and that was the notion of shared, yet inarticulate, humanity, something deeper than language. I think that's precisely when we know art has hit its mark and often, I think, theater does it like nothing else. But only the most poetic theater. I know you've probably heard this a million times, but Emily Dickinson said poetry hits its mark if 'it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me ..... If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.' That's how I felt today.

I was pleased to hear you say during the discussion that family is at the heart of the play. That was abundantly clear. Nothing fascinates and mystifies me more than family. I like to think that that mystery - that all-consuming and frequently destructive love so paradoxically characteristic of family - is at the heart of my work. I love when Cornbread says to little Jude on the tape, and I paraphrase: 'The world is a hard place, but beautiful as well.' How amazing: the concept of horror and beauty side by side. The great paradox of the men I work with is that the stories that have deviled and destroyed them (and often their families), the stories they have kept cached within themselves since they were 18, are the very stories that lift and liberate them (and their families) once they get those stories outside themselves where they can be reckoned with. As I mentioned, most of the families of the vets I work with heard their fathers' and husbands' stories for the first time, often after fifty years of silence, only through the ritual of theater and/or of the written word.

Joseph Bathanti
Poet, Novelist, Professor
North Carolina Poet Laureate 2012-2014

Professor Bathanti facilitates writing workshops with Veterans in North Carolina.