Some Poetry to Inspire Voting

While I am an English major and I adore literature, I am also a political science minor, civically engaged, and a supporter of social justice.

Voting is important, especially in mid-term elections. For some reason, people forget that local government is the form of government that has the most immediate control over their lives. The presidential elections tend to draw the biggest crowds but it’s at the local level that a lot of federal policies and actions are carried out.

Local ballot measures, judges, state representatives – I don’t care which way you vote on these, just get out there and vote. If you feel that you’re ill informed to make a decision based off of a lack of information, you can either do a little bit of research using your smart phone before you enter the voting booth, or you can always skip voting for a portion of the ballot. But getting your voice out there on the issues you are aware of and the people you do support is vital to the democratic process.

Just to throw some numbers at you now, political decisions effect 100% of the population, yet less than 50% of the population during midterm elections gets out there to choose who is in office to make these political decisions that effect ALL of us.

With that disclaimer out of the way and my advocacy expressed, I can now share some political poetry to help inspire you to get out there and vote!

Maya Angelou
Excerpt from On the Pulse of Morning

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today,
You may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.


Elizabeth Alexander
Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


Miller Williams
Of History and Hope

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder


Langston Hughes
Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!


Gregory Corso
America Politica Historia, in Spontaneity

O this political air so heavy with the bells
and motors of a slow night, and no place to rest
but rain to walk—How it rings the Washington streets!
The umbrella’d congressmen; the rapping tires
of big black cars, the shoulders of lobbyists
caught under canopies and in doorways,
and it rains, it will not let up,
and meanwhile lame futurists weep into Spengler’s
prophecy, will the world be over before the races blend color?
All color must be one or let the world be done—
There’ll be a chance, we’ll all be orange!
I don’t want to be orange!
Nothing about God’s color to complain;
and there is a beauty in yellow, the old Lama
in his robe the color of Cathay;
in black a strong & vital beauty,
Thelonious Monk in his robe of Norman charcoal—
And if Western Civilization comes to an end
(though I doubt it, for the prophet has not
executed his prophecy) surely the Eastern child
will sit by a window, and wonder
the old statues, the ornamented doors;
the decorated banquet of the West—
Inflamed by futurists I too weep in rain at night
at the midnight of Western Civilization;
Dante’s step into Hell will never be forgotten by Hell;
the Gods’ adoption of Homer will never be forgotten by the Gods;
the books of France are on God’s bookshelf;
no civil war will take place on the fields of God;
and I don’t doubt the egg of the East its glory—
Yet it rains and the motors go
and continued when I slept by that wall in Washington
which separated the motors in the death-parlor
where Joe McCarthy lay, lean and stilled,
ten blocks from the Capitol—
I could never understand Uncle Sam
his red & white striped pants his funny whiskers his starry hat:
how surreal Yankee Doodle Dandy, goof!
American history has a way of making you feel
George Washington is still around, that is
when I think of Washington I do not think of Death—
Of all Presidents I have been under
Hoover is the most unreal
and FDR is the most President-looking
and Truman the most Jewish-looking
and Eisenhower the miscast of Time into Space—
Hoover is another America, Mr. 1930
and what must he be thinking now?
FDR was my youth, and how strange to still see
his wife around.
Truman is still in Presidential time.
I saw Eisenhower helicopter over Athens
and he looked at the Acropolis like only Zeus could.
OF THE PEOPLE is fortunate and select.
FOR THE PEOPLE has never happened in America or elsewhere.
BY THE PEOPLE is the sadness of America.
I am not politic.
I am not patriotic.
I am nationalistic!
I boast well the beauty of America to all the people in Europe.
In me they do not see their vision of America.
O whenever I pass an American Embassy I don’t know what to feel!
Sometimes I want to rush in and scream: “I’m American!”
but instead go a few paces down to the American Bar
get drunk and cry: “I’m no American!”
The men of politics I love are but youth’s fantasy:
The fine profile of Washington on coins stamps & tobacco wraps
The handsomeness and death-in-the-snow of Hamilton.
The eyeglasses shoe-buckles kites & keys of Ben Franklin.
The sweet melancholy of Lincoln.
The way I see Christ, as something romantic & unreal, is the way I see them.
An American is unique among peoples.
He looks and acts like a boyman.
He never looks cruel in uniform.
He is rednecked portly rich and jolly.
White-haired serious Harvard, kind and wry.
A convention man a family man a rotary man & practical joker.
He is moonfaced cunning well-meaning & righteously mean.
He is Madison Avenue, handsome, in-the-know, and superstitious.
He is odd, happy, quicker than light, shameless, and heroic
Great yawn of youth!
The young don’t seem interested in politics anymore.
Politics has lost its romance!
The “bloody kitchen” has drowned!
And all that is left are those granite
façades of Pentagon, Justice, and Department—
Politicians do not know youth!
They depend on the old
and the old depend on them
and lo! this has given youth a chance
to think of heaven in their independence.
No need to give them liberty or freedom
where they’re at—
When Stevenson in 1956 came to San Francisco
he campaigned in what he thought was an Italian section!
He spoke of Italy and Joe DiMaggio and spaghetti,
but all who were there, all for him,
were young beatniks! and when his car drove off
Ginsberg & I ran up to him and yelled:
“When are you going to free the poets from their attics!”
Great yawn of youth!
Mad beautiful oldyoung America has no candidate
the craziest wildest greatest country of them all!
and not one candidate—
Nixon arrives ever so temporal, self-made,
frontways sideways and backways,
could he be America’s against? Detour to vehicle?
Mast to wind? Shore to sea? Death to life?
The last President?


Robert Lowell
July in Washington

The stiff spokes of this wheel

touch the sore spots of the earth.



On the Potomac, swan-white

power launches keep breasting the sulphurous wave.



Otters slide and dive and slick back their hair,

raccoons clean their meat in the creek.



On the circles, green statues ride like South American

liberators above the breeding vegetation—



prongs and spearheads of some equatorial

backland that will inherit the globe.



The elect, the elected . . . they come here bright as dimes,

and die dishevelled and soft.



We cannot name their names, or number their dates—

circle on circle, like rings on a tree—



but we wish the river had another shore,

some further range of delectable mountains,



distant hills powdered blue as a girl’s eyelid.

It seems the least little shove would land us there,



that only the slightest repugnance of our bodies

we no longer control could drag us back.


Linh Dinh
Quiz

Invaders invariably call themselves:

a) berserkers
b) marauders
c) frankincense
d) liberators

Our enemies hate us because:

a) we’re sadists
b) we’re hypocrites
c) we shafted them
d) we value freedom

Our friends hate us because:

a) we’re bullies
b) we hate them
c) we’re hypocrites
d) we value freedom

Pushed to the ground and kicked by a gang of soldiers, about to be shot, you can save your life by brandishing:

a) an uzi
b) a crucifix
c) the Constitution
d) a poem

A poem can:

a) start a war
b) stanch a wound
c) titillate the masses
d) shame a nation

Poets are:

a) clowns
b) parasites
c) legislators
d) terrorists

A nation’s standing in the world is determined by:

a) its buying power
b) its military might
c) its cultural heritage
d) God

A country is rich because of:

a) its enlightened population
b) its political system
c) its small stick
d) its geography

A country is poor because of:

a) its ignorant population
b) its political system
c) its small stick
d) its geography

A man’s dignity is determined by:

a) his appearance (skin color, height, etc)
b) his willingness to use violence
c) his command of English
d) his blue passport

Those willing to die for their beliefs are:

a) idealists
b) terrorists
c) suckers
d) insane

Those willing to die for nothing are:

a) principled
b) patriotic
c) insane
d) cowards

Terrorists:

a) abuse language
b) hit and run
c) shock and awe
d) rely on ingenuity

Smart weapons:

a) render hopeless and dormant kinetic objects
b) kill softly
c) save lives
d) slaughter by science

Pain is:

a) payback for evil-doers
b) a common misfortune
c) compelling drama
d) suck it up!

Humiliation is:

a) the ultimate thrill for bored perverts
b) inevitable in an unequal relationship
c) a fear factor
d) sexy and cathartic

The media’s job is:

a) to seduce
b) to spread
c) to sell
d) to drug

The Internet:

a) allows us to be pure minds
b) connects us to distant bodies
c) disconnects us from the nearest minds and bodies
d) improves illiteracy

Pornography is:

a) a lie that exposes the truth
b) a needed breather from civilization
c) class warfare
d) nostalgia for the garden of Eden

Correct answers: c,d,d,b,b,a,b,a,a,c,b,b,b,c,b,d,b,d,c.
—If you scored 14-19, you’re a well adjusted person, a home-owner, with and income of at least $50,000 a year.
—If you scored 8-13, you either rent or live with your parents, never exercise, and consume at least a 6-pack a day.
—if you scored 7 or less, you’re in trouble with the FBI and/or the IRS, cut your own hair, and use public transit as your primary mode of transportation.

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