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Poet Rita Dove on what we learned from Nazi liberation, 70 years later

Video produced by Corinne Segal.

Seventy years ago this spring, Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps and exposed some of the worst horrors of World War II. “Liberation,” a poetry collection released last month, highlights why the ideas of oppression and liberation are still urgently important today.

Arts activist and Holocaust music scholar Mark Ludwig worked with 63 poets, including former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, to develop poems around the themes of freedom and liberation. The two joined chief arts and culture correspondent Jeffrey Brown to discuss the work (watch above).

Dove said she felt “called to” participate in the collection, which she learned about from Ludwig after returning from a visit to Terezín concentration camp. “This is where we are today. Still exploring what liberation means. Still reeling from the effects of the past and clearly not learning our lessons,” Dove said. “So poetry needs to step in.”

Dove’s poem “Trayvon, Redux” focuses on an interaction between Trayvon Martin, whose death in 2012 was one catalyst for a national conversation about police brutality and race, and his oppressor, she said. The poem is written from the perspective of the oppressor and addresses how freedom and oppression are inextricable. “If you’re going to talk about liberation, you’ll always have the shadow of oppression,” she said.

The collection also includes poems by Robert Pinsky, Yusef Komunyakaa, Jay Parini and Franny Howe. Each poet had the creative freedom to address the ideas of freedom and liberation in whatever way they chose, Ludwig said. “It’s almost kaleidoscopic — it’s ever-shifting, how you look at freedom,” he said.

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