As a person who comes from write a book politically minded poetry and launched an initiative to support documentary poetry – reported poetry based on interviews or oral histories – I think mixing poetry and politics is more than just wacky entertainment or an experience hybrid. It is also crucial in the face of a sense of social helplessness that can set in after too many stories about, for example, the baton in Ukraine or the marching white nationalists.
Empathy fatigue appears, for example, when readers get used to the stories of the many homeless settlements that now dot California, when they cannot bring themselves to feel, read or vote after being bombed. by too much bad news. What poetry can do is make some of these phenomena come alive and personal in ways that we are not used to.
If the language we hear on TV no longer prompts us to do more than tweet our dismay, poetry can express something new (or something old in a new way), and it can inspire us to take action. The pun of poetry – what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “intensified common language” – can combat stereotypes and misconceptions.
Written poetry (also known as erasure poetry), where the words are blackened out and the remaining words are the poem, is a growing art form. Such works may relate to veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan or to Abu Ghraib, as some of the works of Nick flynn; other written poems were created using the Mueller report.
There are Tyehimba Jess “Olio”, a book written with the historic voices of black men and women who worked as minstrels, and Mark Nowak’s book of poetry “Coal Mountain Elementary”, as well as the works of Erika Meitner, Martha Collins et al. As the scholar Philip Meters has said, such a writer has a different role, that of an “alternative historian, detective, philosopher, radical writer”.
This genre civic poetry, as I think, has a story – the 19th century poet Percy Bysshe Shelley linked the two when he called poets “unrecognized lawmakers of the world.”
The poet of the 1930s Muriel Rukeyser captured the West Virginia mine men who “poured the concrete and the columns rose up, laid bare the bedrock, laid down the steel cells.” More recently there was the very popular (for poetry) “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia rankine, which contains compelling and chilling prose poems featuring racial microaggressions. The very popularity of “Citizen” – publisher Graywolf says he shipped more than 300,000 copies – further demonstrates the impact one can have by writing political poetry, and, of course, doing it well.