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Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Allison Grimaldi Donahue

Allison Grimaldi Donahue by Eleonora Ondolati

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Alfredo Jaar offers a powerful reflection on the limits of language and the role of creative expression in times of tragedy. A lament for today’s darkness and a call to find the words to confront these tragic hours, the bold new public intervention displays the arresting title of a poem by Adrienne Rich (1929–2012), a figure of inspiration for Jaar since the 1980s, who observed the limits of words in times of unthinkable violence: “no poetry can serve to mitigate such acts, they nullify language itself,” she wrote in 2011. Throughout November 2023, Alfredo Jaar and CIRCA commissioned a series of poetic dialogues, curated by Vittoria de Franchis, from international writers, thinkers and speakers. Giving voice to those who find themselves silenced or without words, the poems hope to achieve Rich’s ambition that creative expression can reconcile conflicting realities.


We are going through a very repressive moment, when nuance is lost and free speech is threatened. But I strongly believe that the spaces of art and culture must remain spaces of freedom. Artists will not be intimidated. In this environment, I have turned to the words of anti-war campaigner and poet Adrienne Rich to reflect both the limits of language and the frustration felt by many that voices for peace and justice cannot sound out as clearly as we wish. And, as part of the CIRCA commission, I am turning to today’s poets, writers, and artists, to support a forum for creative expression where the clear-sighted demands of humanity and empathy can be heard. In these times when politics have failed us miserably, art and culture are our only hope. Art is like the air we breathe, without art, life would be unlivable. Art creates spaces of resistance, spaces of hope.


A certain kind of life by Allison Grimaldi Donahue


november splendor 

there is only a certain kind of life

so we go rushing into cold waters

go brushing up against the hot brim

knowing very particular suffering

so small to be negligible happening 

all around can also be neither

small nor negligible for everyone


there is only a certain kind of life

in its own specificities and particularities

a certain kind of life made of its 

own mistakes and monolingualisms 

its own thieveries and generosities 

its own gettings up and its own goings to sleep


november splendor made

of a downpour and a party

of a loss of appetite 

at the prospect

of devouring you whole

so many infinite wholes

each discrete and particular 

in their completeness


november splendor that ought

to make the days shorter

but they feel like

just one day

going on forever

and the sun tangibly

further and further from my hands


there is only a certain kind of life

it can be made of boiled vegetables

waking before dawn

a mole at the center of yr back

it can be made of daily boredoms 

and heartbreaks which if yr lucky

are also boredoms

something burning might look soft

something golden might be a trick of the eye

now there is this knowledge

now we have to live with it



Hand-signed limited edition print by Alfredo Jaar, £120+VAT. Proceeds will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. Available here.




Allison Grimaldi Donahue (1984, Middletown, Conn. USA) works in text and performance exploring modes in which language, sound, and text can move between individual and collective experience. She often employs participatory writing methods to build improvised communities of writers and translators. She is the author of Body to Mineral (Publication Studio Vancouver, 2016) and the co-author of On Endings (Delere Press, 2019). She is translator of Carla Lonzi’s Self-portrait (Divided, 2021). She lives in Bologna, Italy.