The Joshua Tree Tour Poetry

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2017-05-13)

U2 is using poetry on their latest tour, The Joshua Tree 2017, to add an element to the production while attendees wait. Before and after the opening act appeared on stage, the lights are lit and we see projections of words on the screen to the right of the screen. The inclusion of these poems were tipped ahead of the show when news that Parliament of Canada’s Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke had licensed two poems to the production. Clarke’s poems did appear in Vancouver but mixed with a number of other writers work. The poems were displayed immediately after the opening act and continued until the opening music by The Pogues or the Waterboys was heard. The poems loop on the screen and quite often a number can be seen twice from the earliest stages of the day until the end.

The poems varied from a long multi-screen piece by Carl Sandburg titled “Prairie” to a very short untitled piece by George Elliott Clarke that read: “Male is partly female, because female / Carries male. To whit, Gender’s not a jail,”

The full list we were able to identify at the first show in Vancouver are below:

  • Margaret Avison – “Thaw”
  • George Elliott Clarke – “Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?: A Spiritual”
  • George Elliott Clarke – “Untitled (Gender is not a Jail)”
  • George Elliott Clarke – “Kaddish for Leonard Cohen (a la maniere d’Allan Ginsburg)”
  • Joan Crate – “I Am a Prophet”
  • Elizabeth Alexander – “Praise Song for the Day”
  • Carl Sandburg – “Prairie”
  • Naomi Shahib Nye – “Kindness”
  • Naomi Shahib Nye – “United”
  • Lucille Clifton – “Let There Be Now Flowering”
  • Walt Whitman – “I Hear America Singing”
  • Jamila Woods (Collaboration with Chance the Rapper) – “Ghazal for White Hen Pantry”
  • Rita Dove – “Wingfoot Lake”
  • Yusef Komunyakaa – “Facing It”
  • Alberto Rios – “The Border: A Double Sonnet”
  • Elizabeth Alexander – “Preliminary Sketches: Philadelphia”
  • William Matthews – “Why We Are Truly a Nation”
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti – “The World is a Beautiful Place”
  • Robert Pinsky – “An Explanation of America: A Love of Death”
  • Margaret Avison – “Winter Sun”
  • Margaret Avison – “Thaw”
  • George Elliott Clarke – “Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?: A Spiritual”
  • George Elliott Clarke – “Untitled (Gender is not a Jail)”
  • George Elliott Clarke – “Kaddish for Leonard Cohen (a la maniere d’Allan Ginsburg)”
  • Joan Crate – “I Am a Prophet”

There was one additional poem by Yusef Komunyakaa that we were unable to identify.

In Seattle, the poems once again scrolled before and after the opening act. As expected, we were able to identify some additionally pieces, our list is below:

  • Walt Whitman – “Leaves of Grass”
  • Sherman Alexis – “Powwow at the End of the World”
  • James Dickey – “The Strength of Fields”
  • Shirley Geok-Lin-Lim – “Learning to Love”
  • Pedro Pietri – “Puerto Rican Obituary”
  • Robinson Jeffers – “Juan Higera Creek”

Some of these poems appear to replace more Canadian items such as the poems by Canada’s Poet Laureate, Clarke. These were not the only poems seen in Seattle, many from the Vancouver list above didn’t appear, and we saw Sandberg’s “Prairie” three-times in Seattle.

There have been some news stories about the use of this poetry on the screens:

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