A Journey Through Many Worlds

The cover of Benjamin Dangl’s latest book, A World Where Many Worlds Fit, is both an invitation to and a representation of what is inside. Dangl, who currently teaches journalism at the University of Vermont, is the author of three books on current and historical movements for social justice in Latin America. In addition, he spent many years as a traveling journalist covering social upheavals, protests conflicts and politics around the world.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that his most recent work is inspired by those travels and the experiences they engendered. Composed of a well-balanced composite of poetry and photographs, A World Where Many Worlds Fit is simultaneously a journal of places visited, the journeys taken in between and the perspective of a north American committed to be more than an onlooker but because of circumstances, still not one with the people and places he encounters.

The poems describe a multitude of phenomena. Celebrations of the people, aftermaths of uprisings, precipitous bus rides through mountains and hostile territory. The legacy of dictatorships are discovered in the marks of bullets fired by authoritarian militaries. The raging flood of a river is described in dreamlike phrases of poetry. Another river bears the bodies of the dead on their pyres as they float down the Ganges away from Varanasi, the burning ground. Yet another river catches fire because of the waste produced by the mining company that owns its name.

Divided into six sections, each section contains a number of poems related to the title of that section. The reader enters the journey with the poet, who describes the departure and the arrivals. From seasickness at the journey’s beginning “across the invisible dark of night” to the road homeward, the trips recounted by Dangl chronicle an odyssey across lands unfamiliar with histories reflecting both the strength of those who lived it and the brutal regimes—local and invader—that influenced it. Each entry unfolds in phrases reflecting Dangl’s political understanding, personal wonder and sense of adventure.

There are poems here that consider the vastness of history; its cruelty and its conflicts with its own past. There are other poems that sweep the reader into the center of a city where a drunken crowd of celebrants weaves and dances, their children swept up in the joy of celebration. Then there descriptions of natural beauty, human attempts to tame that beauty and the occasionally ugly result. There are juxtapositions of that which has been around so long it seems permanent with the newness of highways and the commercial detritus of globalized capital.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the photos in the book. Each photo is arranged across from a poem. Some reflect the moment or the scenery portrayed in the poem opposite. Others reflect a deeper sense, something that for the lack of a better term I would call a deeper consciousness, of the verse’s essence. The care that went into the placement of the photos is obvious. One imagines the conversations between poet and editors discussing that placement as they turn the pages.

Poetry is rarely a one time read. Trying to get its meanings almost always takes several passes through the text. This reality is probably one reason most people don’t bother to read poetry today. They don’t think they have the time, when in fact the truth is more likely that they don’t want to take the time. I don’t fault those who skip past poetry or consider it not at all. However, I think the contemplation it so often requires presents an opportunity the modern world rarely affords. One would do well to consider verse if for no other reason than the manner in which it alters the language in ways which can make us reconsider the world in which we live.

Benjamin Dangl’s collection of poems A World Where Many Worlds Fit does exactly that. More than a travelogue of places visited, it is also a journal of one human’s explorations of the human condition.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com