Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The political, the personal

At the LitFuse workshop in Tieton this past weekend, during a panel on the poet's role in the American Empire, the subject of political poetry became the focus. This makes sense.

The conversation included discussions of good versus bad political poetry, protest versus subversion, whether poets and other artists have an obligation to speak politically, preaching to the choir, and the use of language as a club (this came up in the context of the government and the strangely collusive mainstream media; however, political poetry can also use language as a club).

I didn't ask any questions then. I wanted to hear what other people asked. Since then, I've come up with some questions.

  1. Why no mention of Naomi Shihab Nye?

  2. Can poetry expand beyond its "choir" by avoiding guilt?

  3. Could the role of poetry, even political poetry, be to bring someone to think of a situation in a new way? Could that expand its audience beyond the choir?

  4. Can political poetry work even when cloaked in metaphor? I wanted to provide this wonderful example from the special translations edition of POETRY in 2006, but I was unable to find the poem online. In it, the poet uses the metaphor of a woman to describe his city (possibly "Twilight in Delhi," but I couldn't confirm it). If you know of it or remember it, please let me know.

This is just a start. I'm sure there are many more questions. If you have some—or if you have some thoughts or answers—please add them.

In the meantime, I have a couple of political poems in Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range. But they are very subtle. If I didn't mention it, you might want to know.

When do you speak up—strongly enough to be heard? How can you speak up in a positive and inclusive way?

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