We are going to create one poem written by many people. This will be a civic poem, a community poem. Everyone will write a line and we will join them together in some interesting fashion. What we will do is find a way of holding hands in words, a way of connecting ourselves to ourselves and, by extension, to everyone. The poem we will construct is loosely in the tradition of the ancient Japanese form called the renga, which translates as "linked elegance."
Elegance is as far away from Matthew Shepard's last physical moments as can be imagined, but not farther than how we might choose to remember a life lost to an unconscionable injustice. To remember well even what pains us most is to exhort toward some superior action those who will follow us.
Choosing a Japanese form--something seemingly far away from us--is also by itself an attempt at forging a connection, a reconciliation with what we may not at first understand.
The linked elegance as a specific strategy of remembrance stands at first in seeming contrast to what we might imagine as the rough links in the fence to which he was tied. Making a connection between the rough and the elegant, however, is our contribution, our roadmap, and it improves us as human beings. In some small way at least this desire for a better world gives honor to Mr. Shepard in those last moments by reclaiming the human connection that joins us all.
Renga, traditionally, were poems of dialogue, not iconoclastic statements. They were poems of action and reaction in an effort at understanding. These are elements we will use as we move forward. In the spirit of this direction, no one person gets to say everything, but we all get to say something. It is the bargain we make with each other that we both speak and listen.
To make this work, we are looking for the building blocks of a poem--good lines. This will be the contribution we are asking for.
There are no rules here. We are simply asking you to think a moment and offer something in consideration of the circumstance.
Most of all, don't try to write the whole poem. We're all in this together, and the point is to be a part of it, to join ourselves in remembering something about ourselves as human beings together in this world.
Write a line, write it well, and understand that if each part works well then the whole will likely take care of itself. Small as it might seem, all of us joining together to write a single poem--people joining together to do anything--will by this intent have contributed something as well to the human condition.