Political Poetry is Having a Moment and It’s About Darn Time

Political poet activist holding a megaphone at a rally.

There is a lot to be said in and about the current political climate in America. The newest voices chiming in are those of poets, and we are here for it.

Poet laureate Tracy K. Smith wrote an essay for the New York Times this week about the ways in which poetry is setting down its plumed pen, donning its battle armor, and stepping up its game in the political arena. 

Political poetry, even here in America, has done much more than vent. It has become a means of owning up to the complexity of our problems, of accepting the likelihood that even we the righteous might be implicated by or complicit in some facet of the very wrongs we decry. Poems willing to enter into this fraught space don’t merely stand on the bank calling out instructions on how or what to believe; they take us by the arm and walk us into the lake, wetting us with the muddied and the muddled, and sometimes even the holy.

Tracy K. Smith, Political Poetry is Hot Again for the New York Times

And that is how poetry once again begins to carry its weight in the arena of public discourse– especially in the era of the empowered #instapoet. Savvy poets and engaged audiences are the keys to the new political wave of poetry, with social media at the center of the rippling effects. Smith touches on the more significant impact of politics becoming a common denominator for a group of motivated, vocal artists with the courage to raise their voices and their platforms: community.

Through the strange labor of deciphering the text, I come to understand that Charles is transmitting an experience that I must allow to travel from her body into mine. When I do, the distance between us alters. It grows smaller and strangely charged.

Tracy K. Smith, Political Poetry is Hot Again for the New York Times

Smith digs deep in her essay, pulling prose against current events like a floodlight washing over space that we typically leave in darkness: race, gender, sexuality, identity, orientation, violence. She touches on how poets today employ not just linguistic mechanisms to pull you into their verse but the modes of layout and design of the text on the page as well. The entire essay is available via the New York Times online, and worth the time to read it through.

Have you written political poetry before?

Share your political poetry work with us in the comments, or on Instagram by tagging @littleinfinitepoetry or  #poetryforlife.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash