10 Week 10 – Poems of Protest, Resistance and Empowerment
We live in a turbulent time. America has been at war for most of the past two decades. Income and wealth inequality are at an all-time high in our country, with subsequent surges in homelessness, opiod addiction and percentage of incarcerated citizens (the highest in the developed world). Climate change and covid-19 have each caused huge disruptions for the most vulnerable populations worldwide. Racial inequality and oppression, most profoundly expressed in the Black Lives Matter movement, has finally become visible to almost every American. The chasm between our two main political parties verges on civil war.
So it seems fitting to end this text with a look at poems of protest, resistance and empowerment–then and now. From Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” to Woodie Gutherie’s “Roll on Columbia” to the gospel songs sung by slaves to the fiery poetry of Allen Ginsberg and Audre Lorde, poems and songs have been integral to the fight for justice and liberty…a fight that is far from over.
As the Poetry Foundation states,
Pithy and powerful, poetry is a popular art form at protests and rallies. From the civil rights and women’s liberation movements to Black Lives Matter, poetry is commanding enough to gather crowds in a city square and compact enough to demand attention on social media. Speaking truth to power remains a crucial role of the poet in the face of political and media rhetoric designed to obscure, manipulate, or worse. Such poems call out and talk back to the inhumane forces that threaten from above. They expose grim truths, raise consciousness, and build united fronts. Some insist, as Langston Hughes writes, “That all these walls oppression builds / Will have to go!” Others seek ways to actively “make peace,” as Denise Levertov implores, suggesting that “each act of living” might cultivate collective resistance. All rail against complacency and demonstrate why poetry is necessary and sought after in moments of political crisis. (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/101581/poems-of-protest-resistance-and-empowerment)
(Sadly, despite these inspiring words, the Poetry Foundation itself has come under recent fire for its lack of response to the Black Lives Matter movement, criticism that has resulted in the resignation of its Board President.)
Please choose one or more of the links below to explore and discuss in our discussion forums and journals this week.
- A long list of links to protest poetry: https://poets.org/protest-poetry
- “Poetry in a Time of Protest” by Edwidge Danticat, The New Yorker, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/poetry-in-a-time-of-protest
- “POems of Resistance: A PRimer” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/books/review/poltical-poetry-sampler.html
- “The Poems that Poets Turn to in a Time of Strife,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/11/books/poetry-poets-recommendations.html
- “Poetry Foundation Leadership Resigns after Black Lives Matters Comment,” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/books/poetry-foundation-black-lives-matter.html
- Statement from the Academy of American poets on BLM: https://poets.org/black-lives-matter