May 7, 2010KR BlogKR

Poetic Political Engagement: Yes and Yes

I’m in the middle of packing madness, so I just have time for a quick discussion of “This Land Is Your Land.” This article by David Biespiel appeared on the Poetry Foundation website last week and was then reposted at Huffington Post.

An excerpt (note the pronoun):

“Meanwhile, poets have sidelined themselves from public democratic dialogue–with the poet existing as a kind of cultural tinkerer, secluded in his rickety kiosk in the dead mall of American civic life. I mean, consider any individual poet at any period of his career, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to redouble his efforts at self-study.”

While I think Biespiel correctly identifies and critiques the pervasive insularity and self-reflective state of much of contemporary American poetry, he is clearly unaware of the many excellent poets who are engaging in political and civic engagement and conversation. (As was pointed out in many of the reader comments on both websites).

I find it ironic that Biespiel himself is seemingly too insulated in his own poetry world to recognize the work of established poets such as Myung Mi Kim, the late June Jordan, Mart??n Espada, Patricia Smith, Joy Harjo, and Juliana Spahr (yes, mostly women and people of color). Not to mention the rich, exciting work of emerging poets who are unabashedly and unapologetically engaging in the poetics of politics ??? poets such as Craig Santos Perez, Ching-In Chen, Tara Betts, to name just a few that immediately come to mind.

And, a wide range of poetic aesthetics is represented in the examples I’ve cited above. Contrary to the way Biespiel represents the factions of the poetry world, those of us who are engaged in political poetry do indeed talk to and engage with each other across our aesthetic differences.

The fact that Biespiel is not aware of ??? or perhaps does not count ??? these poets actually proves his point, I think. The truth is, poetry that actively seeks to engage in political dialog is unarguably marginalized by the gatekeepers and tastemakers of the literary establishment (who are, for the most part, white and male).

The question really is not “why aren’t poets more politically active?” as per the headline on the Huffington Post. There are plenty of great poets who are politically active both in their daily life and in their work. The question is: “why are politically active poets not more widely recognized and appreciated?”