Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

Two weeks ago, I experimented with a new feature here at MyDD called Poetry Friday. My hope was to bridge the gap between the two worlds I have lived in during my adult life: the world of politics and the world of literary academia. I think it went pretty well--34 comments--so I am going to give it another shot.

I will refrain from posting another one of my poems this week, but don't get up your hopes that you have escaped them forever. Instead, because we have entered campaign season, I thought it would be better to theme this week's edition of Poetry Friday with politics. I always struggled to infuse my work in academia with an activist element that would result in real world praxis, but in the end I failed and left academia to became involved in political activism full-time. I am not certain of the exact cause of my failure, but at the very least it has left me with a significant amount of thought on the subject. In recent times, one of the most interesting debates on the intersection of these two areas of human endeavor took place between Barrett Watten and Amiri Baraka a few years back. Kristin Prevallet, who I believe used to operate the Kelly Writers House at Penn only seven block from where I live, has an article on their famous disagreement on the function of politics within poetry. I could go on forever about this stuff, but here are some quick references that should play well even to people who do not read much poetry. Check out Allen Ginsberg's Wichita Vortex Surta (large PDF), Charles Reznikoff's Testimony (link goes to resources given the length of that work) and, because of its short length, Percy Shelley's England in 1819:

England in 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,--
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,--mud from a muddy spring,--
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,--
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,--
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,--
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless--a book sealed;
A Senate,--Time's worst statute unrepealed,--
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestous day. Kind of on the nose, don't you think? (Bonus trivia: Shelley's grandfather was actually born in New Jersey).

Here is how Poetry Friday works. If you have a poem that you would like to share, please do so in the comments. It does not have to be your poem, but if the poem is long, please post a link to it (if possible) rather than reproducing the entire work in the comments. Also, the poem does not have to fit this week's theme, but it would be cool if it did. If you don't have a poem, but would like to post a comment relevant to the topic, please do so. If you have no poems and no comments, but you have useful links to online poetry resources, please do that too.

Last time, I directed readers to ubuweb, and this week I strongly encourage them to check out The Electronic Poetry Center at the University of Buffalo. Both are excellent resources. Also, I have to mention that I love how both Buffalo and Philly have such good avant-garde connections. You don't have to live in San Francisco or New York City to be living in an important center of poetry in this country.

Now it is your turn. Let the verse flow.

Tags: Culture, Open Threads (all tags)



Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

This is better than the other suggestion, "Astrology Thursday" ;)

by Steve M 2006-09-15 10:52AM | 0 recs
OK, here goes

There once was a man from Nantucket . . .

Oh nevermind.

by taylormattd 2006-09-15 10:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

I'm no poet, but I'll try.....

Oh where, oh where, has Osama gone?
Oh where, oh where, can he be?

With his robe so white, and his beard so long,
He's now a Pa-ki-sta-NI.

by Sitkah 2006-09-15 11:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

the thing i liked the most about your poem is the drum beat cadence of it.  gives it a "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" feel of dread.  at least that's how i read it anyway.  i'd love to post a poem with political themes but frankly i stick to more of the cheesy themes.  i've posted a poem at my brand new diary - http://www.mydd.com/user/actaeonfalling.  thanks for this feature, chris.  it's a great idea!

by actaeonfalling 2006-09-15 11:10AM | 0 recs
If Bees Could Vote

No doubt they'd vote en masse
like labor unions--or like gun enthusiasts:
for they carry concealed weapons
and would rather die than surrender them.
They'd vote like true conservatives
to keep every last thing they already have;
they'd vote stubbornly for their queen,
however rarely she travels the realm
or even shows herself. Most of all
they'd vote against the annual veil
of paralyzing smoke, the gray dream
during which half their goods vanish,
the vault door left wide open
in the pillager's haste.

~~Connie Wanek~~

by LoganFerree 2006-09-15 11:16AM | 0 recs
Charge of the Light Brigade

It's not strictly politics, but is there any poem that better honors the brave souls who fight for their country, and better disparages the idiots who give orders that cause senseless death?

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
 Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred.

http://poetry.eserver.org/light-brigade. html

by GreenlaborMike 2006-09-15 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

I despair of what passes for discourse.  This is an outstanding poem by William Stafford that I hold close to my heart always, and think of now when I do not hear bold and publicly voiced opposition to the NSA legislation of Specter by our democratic leaders (I am happy to hear it is dead, but why not yell that in Bush's face?) or to see them hide behind McCain, Warner, and Graham.

IT is why I love the blogs and continue to visit. We who come here heed the last line.  

A Ritual to Read to Each Other
William Stafford

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognise the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to smething shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider-
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give-yes or no, or maybe-
should be clear:  the darkness around us is deep.

by calscientist 2006-09-15 11:42AM | 0 recs
Election Day
As we march towards that night,
we will continue to fight,
our resolve becomes our strength,
our toils have been our guide,
our future lights the way
by Abraham Running For Congress When I Turn 25 2006-09-15 11:50AM | 0 recs
What I read, what I hear, What I do

When liberals fight, we will win
When republicans stand
against the evil in their own

America will rise again
America will win

by heyAnita 2006-09-15 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

This has always been one of my favorites, and not just because I went to college in Minnesota:

Lying In A Hammock At William Duffy's Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota
by James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

The fun thing to do with this poem (as all English majors know), is to re-write that last line.   It helps to have a case of beer on hand for this.

For example:

A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have basted my wife.

You can even set parameters on it, such as:  imagine this is Bush reflecting on his Presidency.


by Jeffrey Feldman 2006-09-15 11:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

How rarely reason guides the stubborn choice,
Rules the bold hand, or prompts the suppliant voice,
How nations sink, by darling schemes oppress'd,
When vengeance listens to the fool's request.

--Samuel Johnson

by Cyt 2006-09-15 12:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

I love this poem and this poet.

I Sit and Look Out
by Walt Whitman

I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;  
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done;  
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;  
I see the wife misused by her husband--I see the treacherous seducer of young women;  
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid--I see these sights on the earth;          
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny--I see martyrs and prisoners;  
I observe a famine at sea--I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill'd, to preserve the lives of the rest;  
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;  
All these--All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,  
See, hear, and am silent.

by Astraea 2006-09-15 12:14PM | 0 recs


functured under moons of glowed
tranquilled so soft and syrup
flexing asparagus slit down the center
tried on the first one gone on a clever

ionized restitute free born a sucka
indivisibled worst in ferociousness ties
its all in motion its all in movement
trap the rats now or they'll scurry up your leg

when one wants to weep
its been too late forever
gunderstone a'mumbling flocks
pearled with no wisdom

one unto all of us
victims victims victims are we
sentenced by clergy that is cloaked by state
the death men have entered the death men must leave

by goplies 2006-09-15 12:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

Kipling said it.  His use of East included what today is called the Middle East.

At the end of the fight there's a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased.
And an epitaph drear,
"A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East".

by marya 2006-09-15 12:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

This is probably more of a slam than a "properly literary" poem, but I don't have any of my more traditional written stuff uploaded, so the text or audio link will have to do:


Text http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jaf301/retrogr ade.doc
Audio http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jaf301/retrogr ade.wav

I think it's relevant, anyway.

by Syrith 2006-09-15 12:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

My effort to put the war and how little I feel I do about it compared to what I ought to do, although I do not actually like the stuff described in the poem.


I sit at my desk, flicking
Salvation Army pleas for Katrina's
victims, the Houston homeless,
and political donation requests
aside in a pile to be dealt
with later, checks to be written
later when I have more time,
lifting instead the fat catalogs,              
of marblized pens, leather desk sets,
figurines, picture frames anodized in gold        
or painted with roses, ivy--page after page
of sets of collectibles, glossy accessories.
I pick out waste baskets--brass canisters
trendier than mahogany veneer--then candlesticks
glistening in crystal, their wax tapers,
or scented paraffins spreading
a molten glow across the photo.

Off to the side, the TV brightens,
seethes with orange flares, as blasts
smash walls, scatter bricks, debris,
bundles of severed flesh, scorched clothes.
A flash of white lights up the room;
fires tremble in dark windows, mirrors--
the stacks of toppling paper shine.


by bobbles 2006-09-15 01:08PM | 0 recs
These politics

these politics swarm like frantic hornts
stinging each other fierce
and frantic
dying like flies
in the house of cards

no, these politics sing like chickadees
in the spruce trees
in early spring
calling to each other
claiming their territories

no, these politics grow like honeysuckle vines
twining my brain into knots
blooming so sweet
i cannot dream
of change

by bloomingpol 2006-09-15 01:20PM | 0 recs
ugliest part of your body

What is the ugliest part of your body?
Some say it's your nose
SOme say it's your toes
But I say it's your mind.

-Frank Zappa

by goplies 2006-09-15 01:29PM | 0 recs
Slobbering hounds of hypocrisy
Too many times have I failed to see
The reflected wonders in the depths
I was carried away by circumstance,
And the rumors of those with microphones
Speaking louder than the rest.
Assured of their own personal glory,
They spoke of evil
And of the inimical sin of the open-hearted.
They mocked the peace-loving hairy ones
And those who sought harmony with the earth.
They locked up those who decried
the emancipation of man,
And furnished criticism
of those who would help others reach their goals.
Yes, they called us evil,
When all along they were lying through their teeth.
Slobbering hounds of hypocracy,
Fooling those with little information.
They Made up stories to twist the masses
So that they looked away from their own inaction.
But all along there they were conniving,
Harboring but a single goal:
To return authority to their mindless demigods,
those who stood before cameras
on the ruins of once great civilizations.
Oh, they had a plan;
It was to reap from the planet
All that their greedy hearts could devour
At the banquet table.
by Panhu 2006-09-15 01:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

Some other resources for poetry on the web, political and not:

Jacket Magazine(http://jacketmagazine.com/00/home.shtml), actually published in Australia, is one of the best resources anywhere on American poetry, especially the "New American Poetry" that emerged in the fifties - as practiced by Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Gary Snyder, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, and others;

Pennsound (http://www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/), which has recordings of scores of poets, major, minor, and in between, reading their work;

Jargon's site (http://www.jargonbooks.com/), with work from (and about) many of the fine poets Jargon has published through the years, including Jonathan Williams and Tom Meyer, Jargon's own;

and in the blogoverse, Ron Silliman's blog (http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/), Bill Knott's (http://billknott.typepad.com/), and ... well, there are many others; try the blogroll on Silliman's site.

And there's my own, NatureS (http://naturespoetry.blogspot.com)

More later.

by jeffdavis 2006-09-15 03:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

Silliman is a hack.

by godotnut 2006-09-16 01:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

Jabberwocky - Must be read aloud - 'tis frabjous!

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

by Astraea 2006-09-15 03:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

SPD, or Small Press Distribution, is a primary on-line source for new poetry and fiction.  

by jeffdavis 2006-09-15 03:28PM | 0 recs
I've always liked this one...

Over 400 years old and so relevant!

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every
man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory
were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or
of thine own were: any man's death diminishes
me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells
tolls; it tolls for thee."

John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (no. 17)
published in 1624

by mefpdx 2006-09-15 03:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

greetings political and poetry fiends.  i collaborated on a cine-poem recently for submission to the pacifica cinematheque "visual verse" competition in vancouver.

the subject matter is ideally fitted for this discussion, but the length is problematic for posting given the understandable etiquette of brevity.

if you would like check out the film version (appoximately nine minutes), then go to:


the title is "may i brand your forehead".

as a blue fiend myself, i am curious to know what politicos take away from the piece.

cy street

by cy street 2006-09-15 04:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

For A Coming Extinction
W.S. Merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And fore-ordaining as stars
Our sacrifices
Join your work to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important

by rondea 2006-09-15 04:58PM | 0 recs

Thanks for posting that, it's one of my favorite Merwin poems.

by jeffdavis 2006-09-15 05:01PM | 0 recs
How Could So Many Fall Prey to So Few, Pt.

...because the monsters don't stay in the cage anymore
they pulse with anticipation by the bedroom door
they wrap themselves in flags and they trumpet forth a war
and they come with blackened shackles leaving trickles on the floor
and something's burning always burning
and sun
and petroleum churning through the heart of this place
the axeblade rockball with the happy human face
the snickering robot mind with the tortured sense of grace showering pain
upon the blood-rusted, chemical-dusted freedom-encrusted
floor of this holy place

(entire original collection of phrases here.)


by Nezua Limon Xoloquinta Jonez 2006-09-15 05:50PM | 0 recs
Do Not Be Ashamed

Do Not Be Ashamed
-Wendell Berry

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

by shermandem 2006-09-15 06:48PM | 0 recs
An Ode To Deborah Potter

Cross posted from Scrutiny Hooligans

Deborah Potter is Charles Taylor's (R-NC11) Press Secretary.

After your first day on the job you said,
"It's official, I work for the devil."
But you always felt that you knew yourself well
and would know how to keep your head level.

But Charlie got greedy, and Betty got needy,
and you have two children to raise.
Your tongue was soon split with the capital talent
of doubletalk, spin, lies, and haze.

Oh Deborah, Oh Deborah, I wish you'd remember
The person you once dreamed you'd be.
Instead you're just spinning, so long as he's winning,
A corrupt old man's secretary.

Now I can envision a future condition,
When you'll rediscover your integrity,
And me and you talking and going out walking,
Two peas in a pod, politically.

Though 'til that passes, you'll spew your gases,
and wrestle your conscience each day.
And I'll just be living, most unforgiving
Of your boss's decisions and the things that you say.

by Screwy Hoolie 2006-09-15 06:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

Thanks to Delaware Dem over at dKos for pointing me this way...

Poetry is my thing, so I will share one here.

strange birds

strange birds flew over the Manhattan skyline that morning
their wings were long and silver
and tilted slightly
against the mighty windmills of
strange birds flew over the Manhattan skyline that morning
their flight was erratic and short
yet seemingly eternal
to their lost souls
as they fell more than flew
into the great ash of
cinder cement and body and soul
over the Manhattan skyline that morning
absent from the bright blue morn
where the doves of peace
they were long since driven
from the America
of twenty first century
strange birds flew over the Manhattan skyline that morning
and changed the world
these doves of anti-peace
making the world safe
for fascism war and more

Darrell J Gahm

by darrell j gahm 2006-09-15 06:58PM | 0 recs
Song of the Democrats

via Emily Dickinson

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated-dying
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

by Winston Smith 2006-09-16 02:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Poetry Friday: Politics and Poetry

This one has been in my mind a lot lately.

The Hollow Men

T. S. Eliot (1925)


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer --

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

by Marc in KS 2006-09-16 04:51AM | 0 recs
Poetry Snark

For those you like your poetry served with a heaping dollop of snark and sarcasm, here's the funniest poetry site on the web--hell, the only funny poetry site on the web--but with some serious commentary too.

Be warned, this is not for dilettantes.It's blog self-described as offering "attacks on contemporary poets:


by godotnut 2006-09-16 01:29PM | 0 recs


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