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What's poetry's role in protest politics?

Should poets be leading the charge in rousing metres, or reflecting thoughtfully on the

Leading poet ... Allen Ginsberg (centre,

in stars and stripes hat) at the front of anti-Vietnam demonstration in 1966.
Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis
Adam O'Riordan
Wednesday 15 December 2010 17.02 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 3 June
201415.31 BST
Last week's images of mounted policemen charging the protesters around
Parliament Square evoked multiple memories: the poll tax riots in John
Major's 90s; the angry young of Brixton and Toxteth in Thatcher's 80s; even,
for the historically minded, the Peterloo massacre in 1819, where magistrates
sent in cavalry to disperse a crowd of over 60,000 who had gathered to protest
for political reform.
Shortly after the massacre, in which several were killed and several hundred
injured, Thomas Love Peacock wrote of it to his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley in
Italy. Shelley was so moved by Peacock's description of the events that he
responded by penning The Masque of Anarchy, a poem that advocates both
radical social action and non-violent resistance: "Shake your chains to earth
like dew / Which in sleep had fallen on you- / Ye are many they are few".
At times of upheaval and unrest, is poetry's role to fan the flames or cool
tempers? Down the centuries it has proved remarkably effective at both.
Against a background of civil unrest in 1970s America, Gil Scott-Heron told
the world "you will not be able to stay home, brother". In his searing, satirical
masterpiece "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" on the album Small Talk

at 125th and Lennox. Scott-Heron offers a line in tightly-wrought comic

surrealism; "The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a
bugle and leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro
Agnew to eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary." But it is as
much his delivery, his voice impassioned but not quite righteous, that
electrifies the poem.
Scott-Heron's influence is evident in a generation of young British spoken
word poets and performers who have emerged with a political
agenda. Scroobius Pip(the name is taken from an Edward Lear poem "The
Scroobious Pip went out one day / When the grass was green, and the sky was
grey") recently offered a corrective against the commercialism of his peers
with "Thou Shalt Always Kill". Coupling Generation Y's fascination with
cultural ephemera with a strain of political invective reminiscent of alternative
comedy in the 1980s, he demands; "Thou shalt not judge a book by its cover./
Thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover. / Thou shalt not buy
Coca-Cola products. / Thou shalt not buy Nestl products."
But is protest poetry the preserve of the spoken word poet? In the 1970s,
American poet Richard Wilbur, symbol of all things urbane and learned,
offered "To the Student Strikers", urging reflection and calm during the
Vietnam war. In "A Miltonic Sonnet for Mr Johnson", he suggests that
Thomas Jefferson "would have wept to see small nations dread / The
imposition of our cattle-brand, / With public truth at home mistold or banned,
/ And in whose term no army's blood was shed." However, Wilbur cautions
that when "poets begin preaching to the choir, it takes the adventure and
variety out of the poetry."
So is this poetry's role: to approach unrest and upheaval slant, and not headon? And has poetry on the page been more effective in documenting the
aftermath of great events? Both the late Ken Smith and Sean O'Brien have
documented the intellectual legacy of post-industrial and rural communities
recovering their identities after decades of decline. Ken Smith, son of a farm
labourer, produced a poetry imbued with a melancholy sense of those like his
father who, as O'Brien noted in Smith's obituary, had "left / not a mark, not a

It's a theme Sean O'Brien has taken up in own his work. The title poem of his
collection Cousin Coat (which he describes as "an invisible coat I eventually
discovered I'd been wearing all my life") invokes the legacy of these ideas. As
the poem closes he asks the coat to "Be with me when they cauterize the facts /
Be with me at the bottom of the page / Insisting on what history exacts / Be
memory, conscience, will and rage."
We can take draw solace from the fact that both our historically strong and
newly evolving poetic traditions performance or page, pastoral or postindustrial will be there to remind and inspire us, to offer solace or make us
think a little more deeply about what has just taken place. As the dust settles
on last week's events it is perhaps time to heed Shelley's advice from almost
two centuries ago; "Stand ye calm and resolute, / Like a forest close and
mute, / With folded arms and looks which are / Weapons of unvanquished
(assessed may 7 2015)

Poetry and Politics

[In 1929 Marcus Graham compiled and edited An Anthology of Revolutionary Poetry,
a collection of modern and earlier verse composed by poets from twenty countries
who championed freedom. Ridge served on the book's Publication Committee and
contributed "Reveille." Poets and critics Lucia Trent and Ralph Cheyney wrote a
lengthy introduction which is actually a version of leftist aesthetics. Careful readers
of the following excerpts can extract the features of a poetry and a poet that Trent and
Cheyney believe can reshape the modern world.]

Lucia Trent and Ralph Cheyney

Excerpts from the Introduction to An Anthology
of Revolutionary Poetry
The world is tumbling about our ears. The old order has collapsed. "The World War
brought to an end the illusionment of bourgeois idealism." We stand among falling
dbris. America is becoming or has become industrialized. Individualism of the
pioneers has fallen away before standardization. The trust has risen and capitalism
expanded. Youth is more aware and articulate. Women are less willing to be
dominated by men.
Labor is slowly but unmistakably reaching the realization that to it belong all things
and the resolve that it shall possess them. No economic, industrial, social and
cultural system can endure long which is based on the fact now true of the United
States: that two per cent of the population, conservatively speaking, own seventy-one
per cent of the wealth, while more than sixty per cent of the people own but twenty per
cent of this world's goods. No system can go on long which denies a job to one out of
every nine working men. Five million unemployed is a host which may light the spark
of revolution.
The creation of some valid order of values is the most fascinating and imperative task
the intellect faces today. The creation of values in the emotional realm is the primary
function of poetry. Chaos gives birth to a dancing star only if we breathe into it that
visible, audible fragrance of passion which is poetry. The world will be new-born
only with the spread of that consciousness which is creation, and poets are the
pioneers of consciousness. They, therefore, are naturally among the leaders in the
development of class-consciousness. Life is faith. Without faith there can be no
poetry, and without poetry no civilization. But intelligent faith can come only after
complete, hard-boiled disillusionment with the supernatural and with bourgeois
Poetry and propaganda are two sides of the same shield. Without passion there can
be no poetry, and all who feel strongly burn with a zeal to have others share their
feeling. True poets are also propagandists, even though their propaganda may be
simply for the love of life and the life of love.
A poem is a rune, spell, incantation, evocation. Poetry throws open mental windows
and doors, pushes back horizons, reveals a new heaven and leads us back to Mother

Earth with a fresh vision of how to regain Eden. What we see often, we do not see at
all, a fact which blinds us to the evils of the present industrial and social system. The
statement of Simonides, "Literature is spoken painting," should stand beside Madame
De Stael's "Architecture is frozen music." Poets clear our eyes and sharpen our
ears. Poetry serves civilization and helps usher in a happier world as no other
human activity can. For the very essence of poetry is SYMPATHY. [The ancient
Greek poet Simonides wrote elegies honoring slain warriors, and the French writer
and critic de Stael introduced romanticism to France.]
There is no other art which can emphasize more concretely and more beautifully the
spiritual values of human life. "We cannot live by bread alone" is a trite phrase, but
one which contains a generous measure of truth. Too many today lack bread
itself. Savages and civilized men are alike in their blind groping for an explanation of
the hidden sources of the universe. Authentic poetry gives utterance to the eternal
adventuring in search of spiritual truths and the Promised Land, long prophesied but
to be realized only through the uprising of united workers.
The poets who rebel against the smug, superficial materialism of the age in this
imperialistic nation and contribute thought as well as words are in the main
pessimistic. Their poems are question-marks. They face frustration and see the hole
in the universe. Not seeing the hope of a new, true civilization that is rising in the
East, notably Russia and India, their eyes are fixed on the downfall of the Western
World and they despair. Their world is staggering like a drunken man, toppling like a
shot deer. For most of them are of the bourgeoisie, and they feel, even if they do not
see, that their class is decaying and disappearing. The collapse of a class is foretold
in the disruption of its ideals and arts, though their echoes may ring through the
ages. Much that is gracious and lovely endures from the times of feudalism, but
aristocracy succumbed to plutocracy and the middle class came into power. Now the
days of the middle class are numbered--and their end is to be seen by the
disillusionment among bourgeois poets and other artists, by the prevalence of
spiritless manufactured-by-formulae imitations of art and by the new interest in
primitive and folk contributions to the arts.
Is there not some fair and fertile virgin soil beyond the wasteland, some faith on
which poets may seize?
"Yes," the answer must be, if poetry is to survive. For, as Emerson said, "Poetry is
faith." Where can the poets of today find a living faith, how can they make their work
a force in the life of today? To our mind, there can be but one answer: The poets can
find faith only where it is found by the workers: in the movements dedicated to
ushering in the Co-operative Commonwealth.

Honor to the poet who can find poetry in stunted city trees and the parched flowers in
a tenement window, who sings the humdrum life of a factory hand or an office
clerk! Honor to the poet who shouts against the infamy of lynchings and prisons and
the red-eyed monster of war! Such poets are working with the mortar which will
build a more enduring social structure. They are the standard-bearers of a new
emancipated humanity. These are the poets whom the present may crucify, but whom
the future will honor.
In this book are sung the real modern wonders of the world. What are the modern
seven wonders of the world?
We suggest as the seven modern wonders: the increasing recognition that equal,
unrestricted opportunity belongs to all individuals of all races and creeds or lack of
creed; the labor movement; the rising opposition to violence and murder, whether
they be expressed in lynching, capital punishment, or war; the emancipation of
women; modern psychology and the extensions of consciousness; birth control; and
the development of machinery to lessen labor and increase production. The poet who
cannot find inspiration in these wonders is no seer, no humanist, no prophet, no voice
of the spirit crying aloud in the wilderness--in short no true poet.
In a land where rich men and athletes are adored and poets scorned, a land whose
appropriate symbols are the cash register and the time-clock, sensitive souls are
crucified. If not on the electric chair like Sacco and Vanzetti, they nevertheless are
seared. In the standardization of a machine age there is tragic need but scant room
for the nonconformist. Our wings are clipped from birth, our souls mangled by
wheels. Most of us, even we poets, are willing to let our souls sicken and succumb or
to keep them like canaries trilling monotonously in a small gilt cage. Some few there
are, however, who struggle for the integrity of their spirits and mint from the
consequent agony dynamic song.
The poet has a real task in the work of the world. He is filling a needed
rle [sic]. There are two main types of poetry--that of escape from the world around
us and that of acceptance of it and affirmation of the beauty in it; the first sedative,
the second stimulant. If poetry is to be only a soothing syrup for the comfortable
classes who have time to kill and are ready to stamp out the springs of all nobler
poetry, we are tempted to recommend that both poets and poetry be poisoned.
Modern psychologists are maintaining with increasing emphasis that people are
influenced not by purely logical and intellectual processes alone, but also by their
emotional impulses. A pamphlet giving statistics of a coal strike, stating the issues at

stake, the number of evictions, the number of homeless miners and their families, is
not as likely to rouse the liberal public to indignation or to generous donations as a
stirring poem describing in graphics and harrowing detail the plight of the strikers,
telling how mothers are feeding dry cracker crumbs to their babies and how their
little children are dying from cold and exposure.
If there be any among the radical movement who ignore the poet as a practical factor
in the fight for freedom, let such recall the lives of Milton, Byron and Shelley, not to
mention the successful influences of Thomas Hood and George Crabbe in mitigating
the cruel laws of Great Britain.
Although, as the Frenchman said, "All generalizations are false, including this one,"
it is fairly safe to say that the greatest poets of the past have been the rebel and
humanist singers who have shaken the thrones of tyrants with their rebellious music
and risen to the defense of the martyred Saccos and Vanzettis of their own
Every age has its poets, but this dark age of electricity, this mechanistic era,
blackened by the monster shadows of giant machines, is essentially a harrowing age
for poets. For the poetic mind lays emphasis on the human values of life rather than
on those upheld by a standardized and crudely materialistic civilization. Therefore,
the poet is stifled to-day [sic] perhaps more than he has ever been in the past, and if
the radicals will not listen to him, will not welcome him, who will?
[Excerpt from part] V
When the workers are free, and only then, can we have real culture and real
civilization. In the meantime all cultures are but night-blooming flowers, hidden from
most men, women and children by smoke and steam, grime and soot, the fog and
poisonous fumes loosed by capitalist-controlled schools and newspapers, churches
and theatres--hidden also by the darkness of ignorance and fear. When the red day
breaks and reveals the free society, these night-blooming flowers will droop. But in
their place will gleam in the sun and dance in the breeze the true flowers of labor and
The dark rivers of tears and blood that swell this sea rush chiefly from hearts, bodies
and spirits crushed by the mills of the over-lords--which, unlike those of the gods,
grind fast but exceedingly sure. Foully feeding every other misery stand overwork
and law-protected robbery: underplay and underpay. Wage slavery is little better
than chattel slavery. Without industrial and social democracy political democracy is
a tragic farce. An unacknowledged caste system which can be broken in a few
instances by grasping or lucky individuals is crueler in its hypocrisy and tantalizing,

unkept promises than a frank caste system. "Plutocracy" is named more aptly than
most realize, for Pluto was Lord of Hell.
Many poets forget that the Tower of Ivory is built of ivory-white bones and is
shadowed by the Tower of Babel! But the wiser and greater poets know that none is
safe when pestilence tramples the earth, be it the fever of disease that ravages the
body or the fever of Capitalism which ravages bodies and all else human and
humane. They know that we are "members one of another" and that it takes the joy of
all to make the joy of one.
You will find their poems in this book. Some attack war, prostitution, child labor, the
deadening effects of too long a workday, unemployment and other evil effects of
Capitalism and exploitation. Others attack the present evil system in its
entirety. Some voice the protest of the Child. Others sing the Women's Revolt. Most
acclaim the Labor Movement, which includes the revolt of women and children. Still
others prophesy of the Golden Age they see AHEAD when the reign of gold shall be
From Lucia Trent and Ralph Cheyney, introduction, An Anthology of Revolutionary
Poetry, ed. Marcus Graham (New York: Active Press, 1929) 34-38, 40-41.

Return to Lola Ridge

Political Poetry
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Political Poetry brings together Politics and Poetry. Politics is the process of resolving conflicts and
deciding who gets what, when, and how. Poetry is a written expression on an individuals feelings,
ambitions, or views. When both come together you have what we call Political Poetry and it is a
creative way to exercise ones right to freedom of expression, all while expressing yourself in the
same process. The writer accomplishes his goal to express his views on the world all while
impacting the readers lives teaching them, allowing them to derive their own meaning out of it. The
following is a sample of political poems and poets, on the worldly issues today.

Poems/Poets A-Z[edit]

A Time of Change: Richard McWilliam - Looks at the possible causes of 9/11. Talks about
poverty and alienation being the roots of this unfortunate event

Black Workers: Hughes, Langston Gives an analogy of slaves being bees, and the bees go
out and do the work. All the while others take away from the bees and all they have done. Also
noting that the horrible treatment would one day cease.

World Peace: AE Ballakisten - describes how the politics of identity influences beliefs and
behavior, and can ultimately lead to conflict. Redefining identity can lead to peace.

Chicken Hawk: Macwilliam, Richard Talks about the Chicken Hawk being strong, but when
it actually comes to a struggle or war he leads from the back of the pack. More loud in his talk
than actual actions.

Democracy: Macwilliam, Richard This talks about Democracy being gained at the expense
of other countries. How taking other countries resources for themselves will make their life
better, while they manipulate, and cheat to keep hold of it until their hope eventually dies.
Seeking power over them, and promoting their democratic ways because they feel its the best
way to govern.

Enemy: Hughes, Langston Being a slave was like a living hell, and this poem shares the
expression of the writer of how it would be nice to see the slave owners get what they deserve
as the slave emerges from years of torment.

Freedom Dust: Macwilliam, Richard A tricky poem, analyzes the words Freedom Dust
and individuals perceptions on it. How one can become content with their lives and not fully
comprehend how significant it actually is, taking it for granite.

God Bless America: Macwilliam, Richard Talks about America becoming narrow minded
and believing that they are the only ones in the world which matter to God. Believing that their
victories are blessings and so forth, guns are a blessing too.

How to Create a Ghetto: Macwilliam, Richard This poem talks about the ingredients so to
say on creating a ghetto. Richard gives a recipe with a step by step approach, stating things
such as taking away their morals, stirring in low educational goals, and throwing in drugs. The
end result what we see in todays society.

Its Somebody Elses Turn: Macwilliam, Richard This poem refers to almost every country
having an empire at one point in time; it goes onto naming a handful. Then it talks about the
USA corrupting the world with their foreign affairs, and what will they do to help the world, and
the legacy they will leave behind.

Jerusalem: Blake, William This poem talks about the holy land Jerusalem and how sacred
it is. Also how they will fight to protect such a blessed land.

Katrina: Macwilliam, Richard On this tragic day a devastating hurricane hit the lands of
New Orleans. The impact on the people was so brutal killing many, and wiping away the hopes
and dreams of the rest all in the same process. On the rescue mission, the smell of racism was
in the air, while the fellow white culture was rescued, serving them while the blacks suffered and
watched and waited in desperation.

La la la Tanzania: Macwilliam, Richard This one talks about the poverty in Tanzania, also
low quality politicians who were later involved in the Iraq war.

Mrs. Conservative: Macwilliam, Richard - This poem talks about the ideal lady, very clean in
appearance and thoughts. Living an ideal life until one day somebody gets underneath her skin
and her demon as they put it comes out, and her friends worked together to take away her
hate and spread it out among races, countries, and neighbors until her smile appears once

Next To of Course God America: Cummings, E. E. Commentary on blind patriotism and the
glorification of death in battle.

Open Letter to the South: Hughes, Langston A treaty of peace in a sense, promoting
unification instead of separation.

Poor Young Men: Macwilliam, Richard A bunch of men sexually deprived that it turns into
anger and aggression among women. They join the religious police and demean women to
satisfy their own frustration.

Quiet Desperation: Portolano, Charles The speaker of the poem is examining a boy on the
train. Talking about his life and how great it was, and at the end he watches his flame slowly

Reconciliation: Whitman, Walt War taking the ones we love, and their heroic deeds of that
day eventually forgotten in time, washed away by death and night.

Suicide Bomber: Macwilliam, Richard This talks about how people do not become suicide
bombers because they think it would be fun to do. Rather all the problems and injustices of the
world building up that a person can no longer live in the world that harbors it all.

The War: Macwilliam, Richard This poem explains how prominent wars were in the
Thatcher years, and how it affected the lives of people.

Updike, John: Born March 18, 1932, and American novelist, poet, and short story writer.
Some of his works include: The Carpentered Hen, and Posthumous Endpoint.

Vachel Lindsay: Born December 5, 1931, an American poet thought of to be the father of
singing poetry. Some of his works include: Abraham Lincoln Walks at Night, On the Garden
Wall, and Why I voted the socialist ticket.

Welcome to Woomera: Macwilliam, Richard A prison camp in Australia for the non
whites. Talks about the hate stored in the land and what they have done to immigrants over the

Dean Rader Become a fan

Poet, cultural critic, professor, University of San Francisco


Politics And Poetry: Do They Really

Ever Meet In America?
Posted: 21/12/2011 00:18 IST Updated: 19/02/2012 15:42 IST



When Bay Area poets Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, and Geoffery G. O'Brien were beaten by
police during a peaceful protest at Occupy Berkeley, the answer to the question the headline
poses was answered in dramatic fashion.
The news spread quickly in the poetry community. We were astonished, horrified, and
concerned. This is not Chile. This is not Turkey. This is not Russia. We are not a country
that imprisons or brutalizes its writers because of their writings; in fact, Americans are not
really used to writers -- especially poets -- placing themselves at the forefront of political

issues or political protests. When Hass published a smart and measured op-ed about the
incident in The New York Times, it was a rare moment when American poetry and politics
met on a grand stage.
The piece's title, "Beat Poets Not Beat Poets," is a painful reference to the history of the
willingness of Bay Area poets to push the political (and poetical) envelope. From the
obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg's Howl to the fantastic essays and lectures by Jack Spicer
on Poetry and Politics, Bay Area poets have rarely shied away from controversy.
At the time of the Berkeley beatings, we just happened to be reading some particularly
political poems by Pablo Neruda in my poetry class at the University of San Francisco, and
the students were fascinated by the many ways in which poets turn to poetry as a vehicle for
political commentary. One can think of Neruda's "I'm Explaining A Few Things" compared
to Wallace Stevens's "The Men That Are Falling," both of which are about the Spanish Civil
War. However, the two poems, written only a few years apart, could hardly be more
different in terms of tone, style, and directness.
My students were also intrigued by poetry as a viable vehicle for articulating political dissent
and political opinion in the United States. We talked about why Hass chose to write an oped piece rather than a poem. For Neruda in Chile, India, or Spain in the 1930s, a poem was a
more powerful vehicle than a newspaper, but in America in 2011, we all agreed that a prose
piece in the Times gave Hass not only a wider audience but a level of credibility a poem
might not.
This begs the question of whether in a democracy poetry can be taken seriously as political
discourse by the majority of Americans.
On November 1, just a few days before the Berkeley incident, I launched a new blog
entitled 99 Poems for the 99 Percent that I hoped (and still hope) might start a larger
conversation about the relationship between poetic and political expression. Here, poems
from major literary figures to recent graduates to political activists tell a plurality of stories
about how most of America is making sense of political inequity.
As so many of the great poems on the site demonstrate, the aims of poetry are pretty much
the same as the aims of most Americans, which means that poetry as a genre might be a
particularly American mode of communication: poetry doesn't need to be vetted. Poetry is
about an individual communicating to a plurality. Perhaps sooner, as opposed to later,
Americans will start seeing poetry as having pretty much the same street cred as journalism,
blogging, and television news for delivering relevant social and political commentary. After
all, as the Beat poets showed, poetry is, at its core, about freedom.
Follow Dean Rader on Twitter:
Geoffery G. O'BrienBay Area PoliticsSan Francisco PoetryPoetry and PoliticsBrenda HillmanRobert HassBay Area

Where Have All The Poets Gone?

SEPTEMBER 05, 2014 7:03 AM ET

Critic Juan Vidal wonders why so few modern poets pack the punch of Allen Ginsberg,
Pablo Neruda or Amiri Baraka.
Michael Stroud/Getty Images
For centuries, poets were the mouthpieces railing loudly against injustice. They gave
voice to the hardships and evils facing people everywhere. From Langston Hughes to
Jack Kerouac and Federico Garca Lorca so many verse once served as a vehicle for
expressing social and political dissent. There was fervor, there was anger. And it was
embraced: See, there was a time when the poetry of the day carried with it the power of
newspapers and radio programs. It was effective, even as it was overtly political. What
has happened?
At its root, poetry is the language of protest. Whether centered on love, beauty, or the
ills that plague a nation, it's all inherently political, and it all holds up as a force in any
conversation. What seems like forever ago, poetry unflinchingly opposed corruption and
inequality, civil and national.
Take Pablo Neruda's "I Explain a Few Things," in which he details the atrocities of the
Spanish Civil War:
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Of course there was Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," a polemic against the traps of conformity
and cultural conservatism. Considered dangerous and profane, it went on to spark an
obscenity trial in 1957; something that no doubt brought added attention to its overall
The Beat Generation is dead, and literary provocation in America, I submit, is at a low.
Why do I bring this up? Because I'm wondering why the words of today's poets don't
pack the same weight and influence as works like "Howl." Sure, people are still writing,
but gone are the days of poets having to answer for what they so explicitly set before
us. The Beat Generation is dead, and literary provocation in America, I submit, is at a
low. The last of them, Amiri Baraka, left us earlier this year, and with him went some
much needed heart.
You could argue that, on a whole, people are reading less and less poetry. But why is
that? Fact is, although there is more poetry being published than ever before from
anthologies to chapbooks and literary magazines it lacks a viable mainstream
presence. What was once important has now been confined to a subculture, something
primarily read in workshops and universities.
Sure, the age of social media has changed the way we approach the written word. The
introduction of tweets and status updates has significantly altered the way we consume
literature of all sorts. But it would be misguided to not place some blame on the state of
the art form itself. Could it be that modern poetry has lost its vibrancy? I ask: Has poetry
ceased to penetrate our national consciousness because we are no longer stirred by
what's being said? When was the last time a poet made enough noise to be threatened
with censorship?
Right now, at this moment in history, with so much to rally for and against from
police brutality in our backyard to the massacring of innocent children across the planet
have the poets gone missing? Not exactly, no. There are many poets, beautiful poets.
Female poets, poets of every color and creed doing valuable work. Today, in America at
least, rappers and slam poets wordsmiths of a different stripe appear to be the
ones whose work is consistently tinged with fury and social diatribe. There are
examples: spoken-word artists like Saul Williams and Sage Francishave consistently put
out new and provocative material that tackles difficult issues.
And on a commercial platform, we have rappers like J. Cole, whose song "Be Free," a
powerful cry about the police killing of Michael Brown, is the latest to make waves. And
then there's Lupe Fiasco. Listen to "Words I Never Said," a heartfelt condemnation of the
war on terror.
We need our poets now more than ever. In fact, they should be on the front lines at
rallies and marches questioning and rebuking whatever systems they deem
poisonous to civil society. They once fed us, our poets; emptying themselves in the
process. Generously, courageously, they brought the darkness to light. They said what
we felt, and didn't mind taking the heat for it whatever that meant. Did they stop
speaking, or have we stopped listening?
Juan Vidal is a writer and critic for NPR Books. He's on Twitter: @itsjuanlove.

Poetry, Propaganda, and Political Standards


by Michael Davis

I recently reviewed Leo Yankevichs latest

collection, and only just read an interview with Mr. Yankevich given by the
publisher, Counter-Currents. I stand by what praise I gave the volume, in spite of Mr.
Yankevichs own admission that One of the central themes ofTikkun Olam is the
destructiveness of Jewish power. Such connotations never once occurred to me, and
without getting too couched in politically correct apologies, I am not an anti-Semite, and I
enjoyed the poetry as much as I reject its apparent anti-Semitism.
The point to be made here is that one can reject the politics of a poeteven of an individual
poemand still admire the art.
Mr. Yankevich claims that all art is propaganda whether its creator intends it to be or not.
This is not true. Mr. Yankevich is (ironically) buying into on the central tenet of the Marxist
theory of literature, as laid out by Walter Benjamin in The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction. Mr. Benjamin asserts that art has one of two functions: the ritual,
or the political. In the modern world, instead of being based on ritual, [art] begins to be
based on another practice politics. Communism and Fascism, he supposes, were the first
two political movements to embrace the politicization of art: [The] situation of politics
Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art. In other words,
Fascism aestheticizes politics; Communism politicizes aesthetics. What Mr. Yankevich
posits is, in fact, this supposed Fascist theory of art, which is practically indistinguishable
from the Marxist.
That is not to say we need to take Marxists exactly at their word. For Walter Benjamin, there
was only one religionKabbalahand only one politicsMarxism. While Kabbalistic art is
purposefully religious, Western art has long since drifted to and fro the central axis of
Christianity, with such devoutly Catholic poets as T.S. Eliot praising and admiring more
ambiguous, and perhaps sacrilegious, novelists like James Joyce. But the wider point,
perhaps, is this: Art can either serve political ends, or it can servesome other ends.

What those ends are is the topic for another conversation. But let us be clear: Poetry very
certainly should serve that other purpose, if only because, as a political medium, poetry is
useless. I detected no anti-Semitism or Semitophobia whatsoever in Mr. Yankevichs verse,
and certainly did not come away from the book feeling privy to a secret Jewish power
conspiracy. I would not call myself an anti-Communist so much as a non-Communist: I do
not oppose Communism anymore than I oppose other systems I think are erroneous; and
yet Tikkun Olam is a self-declared piece of anti-Communist propaganda.
In fact, Mr. Yankevichs collection convinced me of nothing but his merits as a poet.
But lest we should think this is more a reflection on Mr. Yankevichs poetic talent, consider
the legacy of Rupert Brookes The Soldier. It is a famous little sonnet that starts,
If I should die, think only this of me:
That theres some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

I quite like the poem, in part because of my

supposed Anglophilia and in part because I am fond of World War I poetry in general. But a
professor of mine, lecturing on First World War sonnets, read the poem from start to finish;
paused; and said, Im Welsh. That was enough. Never mind that the tens of thousands of
Australians, Canadians, Indians, or even the hundreds of thousands of Americans who also
died in World War I. Welsh nationalism had stuffed the poem up for this acclaimed and
brilliant young Shakespeare scholar. The Soldier is a beautiful piece of propaganda, but it
is one that can easily be disliked and dismissed if one rejects the politics. Whether that is
the fault of the poet or the reader is irrelevant, though I suspect it is not exactly
blameworthy at all. The point is this: Someone predisposed toward a certain political,
religious, or philosophical position may enjoy or take heart from a poem like The Soldier,
but it is not going to change any minds. A convinced pacifist-internationalist isnt going to
pick up Brooke and become a hawkish nationalist. Nor, really, should they: We would hope
such a tremendous change of heart would be informed by practical and moral

considerationseven above aesthetic ones. Without a doubt, any practical point we have to
make about politics is better said in prose than poetry. Better to read a logical, wellconstructed essay on the pros or cons of entering the First World War than Brooke or
Siegfried Sassoon, respectively.
On the other hand, we have profoundly Conservative poets whohave undoubtedly
established themselves as canonical. That this continues to occur in the twentieth and
twenty-first centuries, in notable cases such as Eliots, means their poetry has convinced a
predominantly left-wing circle of academics and critics. While Eliot himself wrote a number
of famously anti-Semitic poems (notably Gerontion and Burbank with a Baedeker:
Bleistein with a Cigar), our progressive and Marxist literatimany of whom would officially
support Mr. Benjamins theory of political poetryhave not even tried to blacklist Eliot. This
is, of course, because, regardless of his political views, Eliot was a matchless poet. The
same is true of Pound, an ardent Fascist and Yeats, an aristocratic elitist. Though this may
yet change, as it stands Conservative poets are not persecuted for their political views. (The
exception that proves the rule is Roy Campbell, an outspoken South African Francoist.)
Likewise, I think it would be self-evidently ridiculous to reject the poetry of Pablo Neruda
and Louis Macniece because they were left-wing. Allen Ginsburgs Howl is a terrible
poem. Its a mangled tract for bourgeois degeneracy written in choppy, artless prose. Lord
Alfred Douglass Two Loves is also more or less a tract for bourgeois degeneracy, but as a
poem it is far better constructed. I admire Lord Douglas, and I do not think his themes would
seriously alienate a Conservative reader.
We do not have to feel at all threatened by the political views of a poet, nor do we have any
evidence whatsoever to say that, (a) a great poems right-wing politics is alienating to a leftwing reader, or vice versa; or (b) poetry goes very far toward effectively articulating a certain
political view. It would be as silly to judge a poem by its politics as it would be to judge Das
Kapital by the quality of its prose. Their aims are entirely distinct. (Some exceptions being
the didactic poetry of Dryden, et al.)
So what, then, is poetrys relationship with politics? That, too, is probably a topic for another
conversation. But if we can agree that the poetic and the political are at least distinct, we
should also acknowledge that they need noy(and perhaps cannot) be entirely divorced. The
poet definitely should not rely on how correct he thinks his politics are, as it wont
compensate for any shoddy poetics. Rather, a poem dwelling on political themes should be
held to the same standard as a poem dwelling on nature, or love, or religion: the poetic
standard; that is, the execution of poetics. What this entails is, again, too lengthy to be
discussed here. But as readers, academics, and critics, we should be careful not to
prejudice ourselves for or against a poem or poet because we agree with their philosophy.
Anyone primarily interested in religion should write and critique theology; anyone primarily

interested in politics should go directly to politics. Poetry, when not addressing its own
medium, will frustrate the reader, the writer, and the poem itself.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

An Argument for Politics in Poetry

by Dale Jacobson
Ive listened to the debate on politics in poetry for nearly forty years, but for all the variations of argument,
it seems to reduce to two basic issues, the complaint that political dogma or didactic intent (assumed
always to be bad for esthetics) spoils the emotional power of poetry, and the notion that poetry in general
is incapable of causing change, therefore political poetry presumes a purpose that poetry cannot
accomplish. At least one of these arguments was articulated by Joseph Brodsky at a Writers Conference
(University of North Dakota) when he advised, as I paraphrase, if you want to change the world you
should drop the pen and pick up a machine gun. The other was likely implied when he commented that
political news interfered with his freedom to admire the dawn. An obvious counterpoint is that no topic
should be excluded from poetry, regardless of these claims. Still, it seems to me that we might do more
than simply insist that politics should be equally available to poetry like any other topic. We should say
more than merely observe that we dont require poems about other topics to initiate change in our lives
(actually, we do). We might do more than merely say political poetry expresses feeling like any other
poem. Let us not forget the argument a poem makes. Intellect raises a poem to greater mastery when
effectively married to emotion.
To my mind, the best of political poems as well as others are those that do in fact unite emotion and
argument, as we find in love poems, in poems of spiritual investigation, or any number of topics. Intellect
is particularly important to a political poem, which has as its purpose social or historical analysis, critique,
even instruction. What, after all, makes a poem political if not its inherent objection to a social wrong, or
on the other hand, its promotion of a social good? The objection carries within it a critique, sometimes
explicit, sometimes not. And yet, it is often specifically the intellectual argument that is seen as
illegitimate to political poetry, the complaint being that it is ideological, didactic, or dogmatic, though
obviously a great amount of literature is exempted from this rule. No one, for example, seems to object to
Rilke advising that You must change your life. One could easily argue there is an intent of spiritual
instruction in The Divine Comedy. Are we allowed to change as individuals but not as society?
There is perhaps a reason for a different standard being applied to political poetry. We do, or ought to,
have different expectations of political poetry because the argument the poem makes does matter.
Political poems should take us further into society. They should tell us more fully where we are. They
should see further into alternatives. In a word, they should do more than arouse feeling, and certainly
more than individual romantic feeling, which seems to me the dominate emotion in American poetry
Even Matthew Arnolds existential poem, Dover Beach, argues for more. Political poems should arouse
communal feeling, and we might hope, communal consciousness. And while T.S. Eliot is not perceived
as a great political poet, he often does this, though sometimes by showing us its absence. When Eliot
asks, Shall I at least set my lands in order? we have more than an individual complaint, but an
acknowledgment of a shattered communal consciousness, as expressed by the following line: London
Bridge is falling down falling down falling down. Thomas McGrath, one of our major political poets, was
right to point out a certain revolutionary quality in The Waste Land, which is also true of Arnolds earlier

poem. There is an inherent intellectual argument in Eliots juxtaposed lines. And while The Waste Land
is not a political poem in the sense that it advocates a corrective social system, it does critique the current
one, which Eliot sees as private and bleak. Eliot's poem would generally not be considered political, I
think, but it does prove a point and define a social need. Even though the poem imagines no alternative
to the situation, it clarifies it. We are left with private land while the public bridge is collapsing. This
contrast contains an intellectual argument, though it does not indicate how to alter the status quo.
In discussing the place of politics in poetry, Audens famous line in his poem for Yeats is often invoked,
poetry makes nothing happen. The assumption is made that Auden is correct, at least as he is
interpreted, and so we must agree that poetry does not create change. As recently as spring of 2010 I
read an article questioning if poetry generally, not only political poetry, had a purpose, other than to be a
con-game, presumedly for the benefit of its author. Such a cynical view would deprive poetry of any
capability of initiating change, even on an individual level.
I would argue that Eliots The Waste Land, for example, did change things. It defined a moment. It
pointed to our social bankruptcy. It created response. It helped prompt Hart Crane, for example, to write
The Bridge, a different bridge than Eliots.
I also think the next line in Audens poem is important to not overlook: [poetry] survives in the valley of its
making. We know that the word poet derives from Greek, meaning maker. If poetry is fundamental
making or, lets say, creation, the seat of creation, how can it be destroyed or, more important, ignored?
It becomes, for Auden, the only legitimate act that matters, because it is the heart of creation. Its
perpetual survival means all else must be measured against it. So while poetry makes nothing happen
for Auden, it is the measure of all that happens. This is another way of saying, in my view, Blakes line in
Milton (Lucifer, the first Eye of God speaking to Milton): The Imagination is not a State: it is human
existence itself. Those who maintain that Auden dismissed poetry as unessential to the determination of
human history simply have not understood this line. An equivalent argument would be that human beings
are unessential to history.
Poet John Haines makes the following comment about Audens line:
It has been said, and it was Auden who said it, in his elegy
on W.B. Yeats, that poetry makes nothing happen. And a
reasonable person would agree, though if we were to be honest
about it we might find it worthwhile to define that nothing and
make clearer that other key word happen. It is true, for
example, that Goyas series of etchings, The Disasters of War,
did not change the nature of warfare, nor did its terrible images
diminish the cruelty in human nature. On the other hand, the
moral passion in that work, combined with its unclouded vision
and skill of hand, did result in a memorable art. And was that
nothing? And did nothing happen?
If a single poem, or a single line of poetry, has become
lodged in one individuals memory, to be recalled and repeated
at an appropriate moment, and has as a consequence changed
or enlarged that individuals understanding of existence, and has
in some further way educated or intensified his appreciation of
values would that be nothing? (32-33).
In John Haines analysis, we have two issues, immediate or consequential political change, on one hand,
and change as enlarging of consciousness, this enlarging of awareness possibly even another way of
recognizing Audens survival of poetry, a way of happening, which we should understand in contrast to
how the dogs of Europe bark toward war and so on. Why is this enlarging of consciousness not

Most discussion of politics in poetry seems to frame the question in terms of the first issue: does poetry
cause political change in the material world? And yet, how can we separate consciousness from the
material world, even if poets are not politicians who decide its daily (and often reckless) course? Thomas
McGrath distinguished between strategic and tactical poetry, the latter being an immediate political poem
to a specific event or moment. McGrath certainly must have considered that such poems carried the
potential to create change, otherwise why write them, as he also certainly understood that they were not
intended to last, unlike strategic poetry. McGrath also thought of his long poem, Letter to an Imaginary
Friend, as the expansion of consciousness, which he obviously saw as change. As Haines suggests, the
right line on the right occasion might well assert those values that originate, ultimately, as Auden, Blake,
Shelley and others have either said or implied, in the creative process itself. Again, lets remember that
Audens poem contrasts the survival of this creative way with the destructive power of war.
We cannot know if poetrys influence on individuals necessarily translates into promoting collective action,
which is the method for political change, but there is no reason it cant either. The (largely tactical, to use
McGraths word) anti-war poetry of the sixties certainly made a contribution.
It should not be a controversial proposition that poetry is involved in passing on throughout the ages of
humankind continued belief in the human enterprise. Obviously, there is an aspect of this legacy that
involves the imagination. The use of imagination to engender a potential outcome in reality is a central
purpose of myth (and again, we see Audens insistence upon poetry as making). Since society is largely
unconscious of itself, myth is a way of increasing consciousness, and potentially bringing into reality the
fulfillment of social needs. Poetry is the continuation of this ancient method and so functions as a
measure of where we are and need to be.
And perhaps here we come to something like an answer to the value of political poetry (which is a
categorization that is by necessity somewhat arbitrary). Poetry, political or otherwise, is a continuation of
the legacy of the imagination, that is, the creative act of being alive. It allows us to see, and feel,
differently, beyond the restrictions of current society. Feeling differently, which holds an inherent buried
argument, is change. Obviously, the existing power structures do not want change. Still, they cannot
avoid it, largely because technology continues to alter the material world (recall the myth of Prometheus),
which then reflexively, though not always positively, causes people to perceive differently and alter the
relations between themselves.
Poetry, especially political poetry, measures the value of these changes against its primary purpose,
which is to bring everything together, to inclusively expand consciousness, to comprehend. This
comprehension is change, in perception and feeling. However, without the true masterworks of the past,
this legacy would not be possible. Hence, if there is a future for humanity, it rests on the continuation of
this legacy, the creation of new masterworks since history changes the material world and those material
changes alter our relationship to each other. We cannot skip or break this process.
Even bad poetry might have a role to play, though I sometimes wonder if more damage isnt done by bad
political poetry and art than any good that can be obtained by its existence. Still, as Blake has Los say in
Jerusalem: each according his Genius. Ive never been fond of the notion, begun by Carolyn Forch, of
poetry of witness, which seems too limited, if not too righteous, too detached, that is, a false choice for
poetry. I have no objection to witnessing per se, but it seems to me poetry cannot be an outside
observer, rather, it must be a participant. It must be part of the Dionysian dance. The stance of witness
seems too moralistic and remote.
More important than witnessing, I think, is the expression of "genius, because genius is more than
merely any single voice or poem. It is the collective definition of who we are. Genius allows us to see
differently. Of course, sorting out what is genius and what isnt can be a problem because there is a
cultural war, one side of which wants to maintain the status quo. Still, I dont know how genius cannot
involve discovery, new connections, casting our glance forward at the same time we review the past,
unlike a destruction-obsessed "angel of history" that Forch invokes rolling up the past in ruin while
unable to see the needs of the future.

Political poems are as necessary as any others, and why would they not be? A society that tries to deny
political poetry is essentially trying to avoid confronting what it is and where it needs to go, and a poetry
esthetic that wants to deny social criticism, as John Haines has said, denies poetrys ethical voice.
I would suggest poetrys ethical voice has its roots in imagination itself. What else will make known who
we are to ourselves except artistic communication, and how can art, including poetry, not be central in
that endeavor? Poetry may not touch great numbers of people in a given moment, but poetry is the
continuation of all moments of consciousness and so its ultimate impact, translated in numerous ways
into other arts and arguments, is incalculable throughout time.
The question of politics in poetry is not whether they belong, but is our poetry one of sufficient imagination
to tell ourselves where we need to go? Is an apolitical esthetic one that allows poetry to have the
greatest imaginative response to our world? Imagination is always pushing against reality, the
limitations that seem to be absolute at any given moment in the material world as defined by history. It is
partially, anyway, this pushing that determines the political character of poetry. We can debate whether
feeling precedes argument, but at some point a cognitive process is aroused, an intellectual recognition, a
disturbance of contrast is asserted, which promotes an argument, however basic or brief. This argument
says things should be different and it is from this argument that the critical apparatus of a political poem
A powerful poem combines the intellect with emotional content to give the poem life. Consider the
argument of The Second Coming. Social order falls apart and we awaken to our savagery (or at least
the rough beast of ourselves awakens). But the savagery was always there; we were vexed to
nightmare by a rocking cradle (our infant stage?). This beast awakens, but without the pretense of
religion, to what its history has really been. That nightmare sleep is over and a new order will be
determined by how humanity confronts this ancient violence, stripped of its sleep and now consciously,
nakedly, seeing itself for what it has created. The poem doesnt go further, but without this argument, we
would not have the power of history expressed in the poem either.
I would suggest that the greater intensity of a poem develops from its intellectual argument, though its
language invokes the poems emotional power. The process is not one of which the poet is always
conscious because it can be rapid, but pathos devoid of it is also devoid of complexities and power. In
this regard, let us give consideration to the argument a political poem makes, from which its feeling, if the
poem is successful as language, flows. And let us also acknowledge that poetry does in fact promote
change, even if its route to accomplishing that change is not directly measurable. History, after all, is not
necessarily linear.

Haines, John. Fables and Distances. St. Paul: Gray Wolf, 1996. Print.

Dale Jacobson

Political poetry does not ask permission

ANDREA ABI-KARAM 2 October 2013
While television, advertisements and other manicured media project a shiny, plastic vision of the
world, poetry captures harsh oppressive realities without censorship.

We long for the time when we took to the streets. But now, we take those words from the streets and
transform our post-occupy political daze into poetry.
Poetrys evasion of mainstream capitalism gives it a unique, charged voice for political expression in the
public sphere. Compared to other art forms, books collect dust on shelves while gallery pieces sell for
thousands. Poetrys existence outside of economic desire gives it the power of a voice that doesnt seek
to please anyone.
I feel like one thing that makes political poetry so impactful is that it doesnt ask permission, says Bay
Area poet and activist Maisha Johnson. She continues: A lot of political poetry says: This is my truth, Im
not going to wait for anybody to allow me to speak my truth. This is what I need to say Im going to say
In her 2003 collection What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics,Adrienne Rich puts forward
the idea that poetry is not a desirable commodity in the United States and that it therefore occupies a
space, however small, of unregulated voice. She writes: Precisely because in this nation, created in the
search for wealth, [poetry] eludes capitalist marketing, commoditizing, price-fixing poetry has simply
been set aside, depreciated, denied public space.
While television, advertisements and other manicured media project a shiny, plastic vision of the world,
poetry captures harsh oppressive realities without censorship. By speaking to the unrest of this world not
being a truly equal society, Johnson says, political poets do have a pretty strong voice in terms of
honesty and realness and being able to challenge things that are sometimes terrifying to challenge: the
big systems.
Jacqueline Frost, also a Bay Area poet, adds that poetry, as a form of realism to dispel the weak
satisfaction of the status quo is composed, generically speaking, of all these tiny tragedies that are
always happening to everyone because the world is so fucked up.
If we think about all of the misinformation that is produced by corporate-controlled mass media, poetry, as
Johnson says, is a permeating, honest voice that explicates peoples tragedies. The political power here
lies in the realism, the kind of storytelling poetry that emerges from struggle.
Although one cannot place value on the experiences that often become poetry, the crafts position outside
the sales racks leads it to suffer from lack of visibility in public space. Theres a deletion of the word going
on in public space the maximization of the image and the minimization of text, says Jacqueline Frost.
Television, advertisements, and mass-produced media overwhelmingly dominate public space in the
USA, while poetry is limited to bookshelves, readings, and the academy.
Poet and activist Wendy Trevino suggests that this unique position allows poetry to address political
subjects openly: I think one of the cool things about poetry is that it doesnt get much attention, so

sometimes people can say more in poems than they might be able to quote, say or do in other forms of
Poetry may not hold much clout in the capitalist arena, but it is invaluable for creativeness and
connectedness within the activist community. On an individual level, says Frost, creative expression has
an ameliorative or medicinal purpose for the individual mind; its healing in its own capacity, its an outlet
for ones own aggression or resentment. Its also cathartic to imagine a world not bound by oppression,
but rather by the strength of community and love. People share their work and realize that they are not
alone in their experience, that the personal is political. We pass around things to each other; its a way
that we bond with each other. Its nice to know that people think about the same things that you think
about. It can be glue, you know, adds Trevino.
Beyond a mode of sharing experience, poetry has taken center stage at certain political actions during
Occupy Oakland. Poetry readings became celebrations after direct actions. The community solidarity that
developed through risk taking and marching in the streets bridges all sorts of artistic fields: it brings
people together.
During the occupations [in Oakland] when there would be a building occupied or a library or some space
taken or some squat opened, there would be a poetry reading, Frost explains. Really randomly, it was
always something everyone engaged with, it was in the meat of what was possible in those moments. To
occupy an abandoned library in East Oakland, and then cheer for the poetry reading is pretty funny, she
says. A curated reading would not have created the same sense of solidarity as a spontaneous and often
illegal poetry reading.
We know that poetry can be powerful, but how can we keep it accessible? In the era of hyperindividualization, the pressure to sell yourself as having unique expertise has resulted in inaccessibility to
the field of poetry, since it is limited to those with educational privilege.
Frost believes that while poetry as an art may not generate significant monetary capital, it certainly thrives
on social capital of the kind that accumulates around certain people, meaning white men. She goes on:
That kind of radically transformative language is not going to come from specialists, people who
presently regard themselves as having a certain property of poetry [] all of the academics, and most of
the overeducated white people. The problem with exclusivity in an art form that aims to spread realism
and political messages is that both the writers and the audiences are limited. Poetry already has a difficult
enough time inhabiting public space; it should not be walled up in the ivory tower.
Once we realize that we can open up poetry beyond academia, more people can use it to share their
experiences and ideas on how to transform the world. I think my point is that, as people who identify with
poetry, we really need to question whether our relationship is a proprietary one, and if that relationship
comes at the exclusion of other people having access to poetry, access to transmitting or receiving
transformative communications from each other, says Frost.
How can we resist this specialization that takes people away from political organizing? If we want to
create a revolutionary discourse, it should be based on our real experiences. I guess my hope for poetry

is to destroy the Poet. I would like for there to be no specialization Trevino said, the Poet is a specialized
person, they typically have this particular kind of education, they do this one thing, and there are all these
people that write poems and do more than just one thing. Once we move beyond the idea that a Poet
must have a particular kind of education, we can realize the entire population of poets who are dismissed
for not having this education and expand the scope of our audience.
I think there are a lot of people on the streets writing poetry and those poems are often not paid attention
to, because [] the Poet is the one teaching in the university and getting attention in the press or
whatever, Trevino says. I wish it was more people writing poems, and not just Poets.

Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry

Heideggers politically motivated use of poetry and its relation to currents
of modern thought
This volume collects and translates Philippe Lacoue-Labarthes studies of Heidegger, written and revised
between 1990 and 2002. All deal with Heideggers relation to politics, specifically through Heideggers
interpretations of the poetry of Hlderlin. Lacoue-Labarthe argues that it is through Hlderlin that
Heidegger expresses most explicitly his ideas on politics, his nationalism, and the importance of myth in
his thinking, all of which point to substantial affinities with National Socialism.
Lacoue-Labarthe not only examines the intellectual background--including Romanticism and German
ideology--of Heideggers uses and abuses of poetry, but he also attempts to reestablish the vexed
relationship between poetry and philosophy outside the bounds of the Heideggerian reading. He turns to
Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, as well as Paul Celan, arguing for the necessity of poetry as an
engagement with history. While Heideggers readings of Hlderlin attempt to appropriate poetry for mythic
and political ends, Lacoue-Labarthe insists that poetry and thought can, and must, converge in another
way. Jeff Fort provides a precise translation capturing the spirit and clarity of Lacoue-Labarthes writing,
as well as an introduction clearly situating the debates addressed in these essays.
"In this wonderful new English translation, Fort provides some of Lacoue-Labarthe's finest thinking and a
clear and memorable account of the entire range of this thinking. . . . This volume will soon be
appreciated as a substantial advance over the earlier argument. . . . This tour de force in the history of
philosophy and literature is not to be missed. . . . Highly recommended."Choice
Lacoue-Labarthes approach to Heidegger is unique in that he combines devastating criticism with an
appreciation of the immense importance Heideggers thought still has for the future of philosophy.-Southern Humanities Review
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe is the professor emeritus of philos-ophy and aesthetics at the University of
Strasbourg. Five of his books have been previously translated into English, including Typography and
Poetry as Experience. Jeff Forts previous translations include Jacques Derridas For What
Tomorrow . . . and Jean Genets The Declared Enemy.