The Joshua Tree Tour Poetry

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2017-09-12)

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 acts appear 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,”

Throughout the tour we have been able to identify the following. The same poems have been used for both the first leg and the second leg of the tour.

  • “Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?: A Spiritual” – George Elliott Clarke
  • “An Explanation of America: A Love of Death” – Robert Pinsky
  • “The Border: A Double Sonnet” – Alberto Rios
  • “Facing It” – Yusef Komunyakaa
  • “Ghazal for White Hen Pantry” – Jamila Woods (Collaboration with Chance the Rapper)
  • “I Am a Prophet” – Joan Crate
  • “I Hear America Singing” – Walt Whitman
  • “Juan Higera Creek” – Robinson Jeffers
  • “Kaddish for Leonard Cohen (a la maniere d’Allan Ginsburg)” – George Elliott Clarke
  • “Kindness” – Naomi Shahib Nye
  • “Learning to Love America” – Shirley Geok-Lin-Lim
  • “Leaves of Grass” – Walt Whitman
  • “Let There Be Now Flowering” – Lucille Clifton
  • “Puerto Rican Obituary” – Pedro Pietri
  • “Powwow at the End of the World” – Sherman Alexie
  • “Praise Song for the Day” – Elizabeth Alexander
  • “Prairie” – Carl Sandburg
  • “Preliminary Sketches: Philadelphia” – Elizabeth Alexander
  • “The Strength of Fields” – James Dickey
  • “Thaw” – Margaret Avison
  • “This is What You Shall Do” – Walt Whitman
  • “United” – Naomi Shahib Nye
  • “Untitled (Gender is not a Jail)” – George Elliott Clarke
  • “Why We Are Truly a Nation” – William Matthews
  • “Wingfoot Lake” – Rita Dove
  • “Winter Sun” – Margaret Avison
  • “The World is a Beautiful Place” – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

There was one additional poem by Yusef Komunyakaa shown in Vancouver that we have yet to identify.

The poems from George Elliott Clarke have only appeared in the Vancouver show. Clarke is Canada’s Poet Laureate. Early news stories said that the poems were licensed for only one show. In Toronto, later in the tour, there was not sign of Clarke’s work returning.

Poems will often repeat, and we saw Sandberg’s “Prairie” three-times in Seattle. Twice before the opening act and once after.

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

Update for Third Leg:

Although no changes were identified between the poems shown on the first leg and the second leg, now that the third leg has started we have been able to identify some new poetry now appearing on the screens. These are mixed with a number of poems that have been seen on both the first and second leg, and at this point we are not able to say with any certainty that any poems have been removed. The new poems we have been able to identify on the third leg of the tour are as follows:

  • “One Today” – Richard Blanco
  • “Let America Be America Again” – Langston Hughes
  • “I, Too” – Langston Hughes
  • “America v. -heart” – Kate Hoyle
  • “America ii” – Kate Hoyle
  • “If You Were Still Around” – Sam Shepard
  • “Motel Chronicles” – Sam Shepard
  • “America Politica Historia, in Spontaneity” – Gregory Corso

Poems that are returning to the screen for the third leg of the tour that we had previously seen on the first two legs are listed below. We will fill these in as we get more information.

  • “Prarie” – Carl Sandberg
  • “Let There Be Now Flowering” – Lucille Clifton
  • “Puerto Rican Obituary” – Pedro Petri
  • “Leaves of Grass” – Walt Whitman
  • “I Hear America Singing” – Walt Whitman
  • “Juan Higera Creek” – Robinson Jeffers
  • “Powwow At the End of the World” – Sherman Alexie
  • “Ghazal for White Hen Pantry” – Jamila Woods (Collaboration with Chance the Rapper)
  • “Why We Are Truly A Nation” – William Matthews
  • “United” – Naomi Shihab Nye
  • “Kindness” – Naomi Shihab Nye
  • “Facing It” – Yusef Komunyakaa
  • “The Border: A Double Sonnet” – Alberto Rios
  • “Praise Song for the Day” – Elizabeth Alexander
  • “The World is a Beautiful Place” – Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • “An Explanation of America: A Love of Death” – Robert Pinsky

(Many thanks to Wendy Truran for her assistance with this article).

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