political poetry

In my Monday night class, we had a really interesting discussion about political poetry–what it is, why it’s dangerous, just how much Americans can “complain” about politics when there are countries where there’s so much more oppression going on, how to write it without alienating readers or preaching, and what we ultimately want from poetry. So it got me thinking about some examples of political poems that, I believe, “work”–and one of those is Tony Hoagland’s poem “America” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=171302). And why does it work? Well, one reason is that he implicates himself. He’s not pointing the finger at “those bad people”; he recognizes that even he is part of the system he criticizes.

Another important link to check out is the site for Split This Rock (http://www.splitthisrock.org/who.html), a poetry organization dedicated to “political poetry,” or as they call it, “the poetry of witness and provocation.”

Please feel free to add comments, including links to or mentions of other “political” poets and poems.

August 25, 2010. Uncategorized.

One Response to “political poetry”

  1.   isukrung Says:

    Hey, this is Katie Riegel’s husband. And I wanted to add an observation. The political poem has changed with the political and generational shifts of the country. If you look at The Beats, if you look at the Black Arts Movements, the poets voice was meant to shake the foundation of the American political establishment. The speaker of those poems acted solely as a voice, a rallying point, a way to motivate the public into action or at times anarchy. But also look at the tone of those poems in relationship to the period of time they were written. It was an age of violence and civil unrest. This is not to say we are beyond violence and civil unrest. But I think, the political prominence of the poet has also declined over the decades. Where does the poet locate herself in the political landscape? How much power does the poet have? Who will listen?

    The tack taken by contemporary poets now, like Tony Hoagland, like Terrance Hayes, like Sarah Browning is not only of one of observer. There has been a large shift in adopting the personal pronoun “I” in poetry, and that shift recognizes that he/she is part of this society, instead detached from it or above it. The “I” in the political poem is an indictment of the self. In Hoagland’s poem it is not some random man he dreams of that bleeds money, it is the speaker’s father. It is not some random student in a random classroom, it is the speaker’s student in his classroom. The poem has been made personal, has been made narrative. Because of that it becomes more effective.

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