My Thoughts on Writing Political Poetry

Composing political poetry is one way a poet can weigh in and share their opinion on current events and politics around the world. These poems tend to critique or defend the social and political issues of the day.

The Poetry Foundation.org shares:

“Plato wanted to banish poets from his Republic because they can make lies seem like truth. Shelley thought poets were “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and Auden insisted that “poetry makes nothing happen.”

poetryfoundation.org

So… what constitutes a political poem? Is there a specific format? What words does a political poem contain?

Certainly at the forefront of political poetry is “Resistance Poetry.” This is the poetry of dissent and social criticism, including social concern and conscience. 

This type of poetry is passionate. The poet defines the topic and weaves their words to share their experiences. It’s not merely about outrage. You must have a personal connection to the issue.

I grew up with political poetry during the 1960’s. Allen Ginsberg wrote some of the most politically charged poetry in modern writing. He laid bare the stigma of writing political prose with raw feelings and descriptions.

Today, writing political poetry has become a way to vent and blow off steam at the things we cannot change. Yet, this type of poetry also helps us own up to the complex problems our governments face.

Poetry that dares to tread into the political arena is not all about telling others what to believe or pointing fingers at those who think differently. It also gives an opportunity to weigh different opinions and to move toward other perceptions, leaving some distasteful societal labels behind.

After all, as poets aren’t we always writing about current events and how they affect us emotionally, intellectually, and culturally?

In today’s political climate, many poets are propelled by a sense of urgency, reckoning, and responsibility to voice their opinions. Their passion sometimes over powers their message.

When you get ready to compose a poem, state your subject and show how you feel about your particular subject. Don’t just rant. That style of prose gets the political poet nowhere. Make clear, who or what you are talking about. Don’t talk in circles. Be precise.

In my humble opinion, analogies often help define a political poem by giving the reader a comparison – something that helps the reader interpret your meaning.

As an example, I’ve shared my political Tanka poem below.

Aftershocks

Uncharted terrain
new transformations will come
while earthquakes rumble
D.C. autocrats govern
with unlimited power

© 2019 Colleen M. Chesebro

I made a comparison between earthquake aftershocks and D.C. autocrats. I made my thoughts clear to the reader. I stated my opinion quite bluntly. However, I even added a line of hope: “new transformations will come.” Yet, to the casual reader, it would be hard to not surmise that the current politics in America does feel like constant aftershocks.

How do we write a political poem that doesn’t offend everyone?

Sheri Fresonke Harper, a Creative Writing student at Ashland University shares the perfect list:

Being preachy is usually accomplished by:

  • Telling rather than showing
  • Coming to conclusions that are repeatedly shown or stated in summary
  • Long discourses on history or other evidence
  • Not having a personal connection to the material
  • Telling people what to think rather than offering a balanced view of possibilities
  • Hammering a painful point
  • Leaving out emotion and the senses

Political poetry comes in a variety of formats:

  • How you felt and what you want after witnessing an event
  • Providing a balance in characterization meaning show the good and the bad
  • Joyous expressions, the doing what’s told not to be done for the sheer pleasure of life; by this I mean, x won’t let me, can be turned to here I am doing…
  • Odes to brave actions or people

Reflect on the words of Adrienne Rich:

“For forty years, Adrienne Rich was one of the most outspoken political poets in late twentieth-century American poetry, a model for a generation of political and activist poets. She went through several phases in relationship to polemics. She proposed a position that resists didacticism in “Power and Danger: Works of a Common Woman” (1978), her introduction to a collection of poems by Judy Grahn:”

“”No true political poetry can be written with propaganda as an aim, to persuade others “out there” of some atrocity or injustice (hence the failure, as poetry, of so much anti-Vietnam poetry of the sixties). As poetry, it can come only from the poet’s need to identify her relationship to atrocities and injustice, the sources of her pain, fear, and anger, the meaning of her resistance.””

Poets.org “Political Poetry: From A Poet’s Glossary”

For example, as a white woman, it would be near impossible for me to write about how it feels to be be a black woman in America. Sure, I could speculate and of course, sympathize while I stated my outrage at the treatment black women receive. But I’ve never actually felt what it means to be black in America. My perceptions are different and only from my point of view. My poetry would probably fall flat.

So, remember, write from your heart, but make sure you show your source of pain, fear, and anger so your reader can relate to your experience. Empty words are like empty promises. They mean nothing. Make every word count. ❤

46 comments

        1. I just didn’t want people to rant and rave. Thank goodness we’ve not had that. Pure, strong emotions are good but somehow we have to connect to the experience that set off the emotions inside us. Does that make sense?

          Like

    1. I think political poetry is the hardest to write. I walk a fine line not wanting to get sucked up by the negativity. It’s so hard for many people to witness the lack of compassion and cruelty. I get that and it hurts my heart. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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