February 26, 2016

Creating a Just World: Poetry & Social Change

Can poetry instigate change? Yes it can, in many ways. Here are some excerpts of poems from poets whose work has had political influence. Some of these poems are visionary, some are poems of grief, and some are satire. At the workshop, using prompts and guided writing exercises, participants will explore their own concerns and vision for a better world.  Che Guevarra said, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

Pablo Neruda

Neruda wrote poems that were political in order to trigger social change.  He also wrote love poems and poems of all kinds.
He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly. 
He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

Let's try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Allen Ginsberg

Ginsberg addresses America in this poem (anaphora: the list structure with a repeated beginning word). His perspective was from a radical, gay poet. Often the "you" in his work was a large audience.

America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.

I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.
I’m addressing you.

America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

Sonja Sanchez

This elegy pays homage to Malcolm X.
do not speak to me of martyrdom,
of men who die to be remembered
on some parish day.
i don’t believe in dying
though, I too shall die.
and violets like castanets
will echo me,
yet this man,
this dreamer,
thick lipped with words
will never speak again
and in each winter
when the cold air cracks
with frost I’ll breathe
his breath and mourn
my gunfilled nights.
he was the sun that tagged
the western sky and
melted tiger-scholars
while they searched for stripes.

Patricia Lockwood

In satire, Lockwood takes on the culture and women's issues.
Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.
Can any part of the rape joke be funny. The part where it ends—haha, just kidding! Though you did dream of killing the rape joke for years, spilling all of its blood out, and telling it that way.
The rape joke cries out for the right to be told.
The rape joke is that this is just how it happened.
The rape joke is that the next day he gave you Pet Sounds. No really. Pet Sounds. He said he was sorry and then he gave you Pet Sounds. Come on, that’s a little bit funny.
Admit it.

To see full text: Rape Joke by Patricia Lockwood

These poets are but a small sample of poets who seek to make a difference in the world, to bring about peace and justice. Poet Stacy Ann Chin created a No H8 project with her young daughter. Speaking about raising her daughter Zuri, Stacey Ann Chin said,
“I want her to know that what she believes, what she says and what she does matters in terms of what the world will look like tomorrow. Protest is everywhere and protest itself is not violent in nature — it is being involved in a conversation," says Chin. "I want my kid involved in those conversations, and I want her to know she is extraordinarily powerful. What better way to feel powerful than to be involved with an ongoing conversation about what’s going to happen with the world?” 

Poets bring an extraordinary attention to language and sound.  Who else can better articulate the vision of a better world?

To read an interesting essay about the function of poetry, see http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/178919

Here are the names of a few poets of note who have worked to build a better world:

Claudia Rankine http://claudiarankine.com/
Amiri Baraka see https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/amiri-baraka
Margaret Randall http://www.margaretrandall.org/
Muriel Rukeyser  see: http://the-toast.net/2013/11/01/muriel-rukeyser/

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