Tag Archives: politics

Politics and Poetry: Ezra Pound

In the last year, I’ve been giving a series of lectures titled Politics and Poetry for The Socialist Party USA. This is an excerpt from the Slam Poetry section of that lecture.


So we’re going to do things a little backwards for this one and look at the poet’s works first before jumping into his biography. This poem penned in 1926 is one Ezra Pound’s most famous poems, in part because of how short it is:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound was an American poet, born in 1885 and lived through both world wars and well into the cold war and the conflicts that prevailed during the time (and subsequently died in 1972). This next poem of his is titled “The Coming of War: Actaeon” written in 1917.

An image of Lethe,
and the fields
Full of faint light
but golden,
Gray cliffs,
and beneath them
A sea
Harsher than granite,
unstill, never ceasing;

High forms
with the movement of gods,
Perilous aspect;
And one said:
“This is Actæon.”
Actaeon of golden greaves!

Over fair meadows,
Over the cool face of that field,
Unstill, ever moving,
Host of an ancient people,
The silent cortège.

Ezra Pound is credited as being one of the creators of the Modernist poetry movement with his focus on imagery. He translated Chinese and Japanese poetry and in both his translated works and original works he pushed for clarity, precision, and economy of language. He founded not only several American literary magazines, but he is credited for discovering and shaping poets such as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway.

Image of young Ezra Pound
Via Wikimedia.org

Then came Word War I.

Politics and Poetry: William Butler Yeats

Yeats, by Alice Boughton

In the last year, I’ve been giving a series of lectures titled Politics and Poetry for The Socialist Party USA. This is an excerpt from the Slam Poetry section of that lecture.


Ireland, under the thumb of England, rebelled against English control Easter weekend 1916, during WWI. While both the Irish and English were participating in WWI, England was more heavily engaged and the Irish Republicans used that opportunity to try to form an independent Ireland. The battle lasted six days but England sent thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. While there was a fierce battle, Ireland ultimately lost and surrendered and the English inflicted heavy casualties on the Irish.

Maude Gonne, by Bain News Service
Maude Gonne, by Bain News Service

William Butler Yeats, native Irishman, nobel prize winning poet, and poet of the Irish Revolution and poet of the Irish Free State, was born in 1865. He was educated in both Ireland and England and fell in love with Maud Gonne, a woman that was engaged in the Irish Nationalist movement.

Yeats proposed to her in 1891 and she rejected him because he wasn’t political enough. Yeats, while agreeing with the sentiments of the Irish Republicans, hesitated to outright join the cause. He proposed yet again in 1899, 1900, and 1901, but was always met with a refusal. In 1903, she married another Irish Nationalist by the name of John MacBride. Heartbroken, Yeats still remained good friends with Gonne and even helped her file for divorce years later against her husband MacBride.

By 1912 and 1913, Yeats supported the idea of an Irish Parliament with control of domestic affairs, but pulled back from his full support of an independent Ireland. Then the Easter Rebellion happened. Yeats wrote a poem titled “Easter, 1916”:

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Politics and Poetry: John Milton

John Milton lived during the Restoration period (1600-1798), also known as the Age of Enlightenment which occurred just after the Renaissance (1485-1660), in England and was one of the most celebrated poets of the era.

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Is it weird that I really dig John Milton’s hair?

It was Milton’s goal to not just be a poet, but to be a great poet. He achieved this by hiring tutors to continue his education after his schooling had finished. In addition to studying hard to be a poet, Milton wrote and he wrote a lot. John Milton was a prolific poet, creating an extensive body of work from sonnets to a twelve book-spanning epic poem.

What Milton is probably most recognized for is that twelve book epic poem, better known as Paradise Lost. This epic poem recounts the fall of man from the Christian bible from the perspective of none other than Satan himself.

Writing for Change

It’s no secret that I have an interest in politics. I also have a passion for writing. These two realms of my personality are not mutually exclusive; indeed, writing and politics often come together – from speeches written to address the public to the slew of emails politicians send out come election time. One doesn’t need to have a career in political writing to combine these two interests, though.

As a writer, you can put those skills to use to support your own causes and interests in writing for change – or writing letters to elected officials to express your point of view on a specific issues. This can be a letter supporting some current course of action, against a course of action, in response to a law that has already passed or to an upcoming bill that is coming up for vote on the floor before your local, state, or federal representative.

Omar Ahmad, former mayor of San Carlos, gave a riveting TED Talk on the effectiveness of letter writing as a form of political action and feedback directly from the people to the politician.

http://embed.ted.com/talks/omar_ahmad_political_change_with_pen_and_paper.html
“What actually works, and the answer is actually strange: it’s a letter. We live in a digital world but we’re fairly analog creatures.”

Ahmad, in his talk, offers some great tips when it comes to writing for change, and I wanted to highlight and give a summary those points here:

Story Shots: May Day

Story_Shots

May means different things to different people. In May, memorial day happens to honor people who have served this country through military service. May is a great time for weddings. May is when the flowers start blooming and the bees start pollinating. But May 1st is a different kind of day. May Day in America has a history surrounding worker’s rights. This month’s creative nonfiction post is an ode to May Day.


The FM radio broke about a year ago. I don’t know why. My car’s a 2001 Kia Spectra and it’s 2015. That’s probably why.

KNX1070, a Southern Californian news radio program that ran on AM, was playing as I drove home. I had work until 5 p.m. I tell myself that work was the reason I didn’t go. I don’t tell myself even if I went, my busted hip and knee would have kept me from marching.

“Let’s go to your eye in the sky and get the latest on Traffic in L.A.” the male radio host said, over pronouncing every word through what sounded like a tight, forced smile.

“Well, there are a lot of freeway closures in L.A. today due to the march,” came the reply from the CBS News Helicopter.

“Thank you Denise. Are there a lot of people marching in L.A. today for the fight-for-fifteen movement?” The inflection of his voice was supposed to make him sound interested, but the over enthusiasm in his voice just made every question and statement that fell from his lips feel false.

“Oh gosh,” she started, “like 200 people are so. You can’t miss the flag they have. It’s a big flag. They’re leading the march with it.”

I texted my friend at the march asking how many people were there.

“About 1,000, maybe more” he replied.

Politics and Poetry: Early Modern English Poetry

I like to write poetry. I can’t say I’m the best at it, but I’ve been published a few times and I continue to study rhetoric and poetic form as well as continue to try to write and publish the work that I do. I’m also a passionate person when it comes to politics and social justice. My major in college was English, but my minor was political science.

So often when I write, I write politically-themed poetry. This struck one of my friends as odd. When I got to thinking about the link between politics and poetry, though, I have to say it’s really not all that odd for politics and poetry to be combined.

Politics and poetry have always been aligned. Poetry has always been a place for marginalized people to make their voices heard or to covertly challenge those in power. Today poetry continues to be an arena for social commentary and pushes for social change, and, above all else, a way for people to make their voices and opinions heard.

Queen Elizabeth I in her coronation robes.

Early Modern English Poets

Also known as the English Renaissance, this period lasted from the late 15th century into the cusp of the 18th century and was filled with political turmoil. Protestant and catholic monarchs kept being crowned which meant every time the power passed between faiths, the people of this time period were expected to convert. The idea behind a monarchy is that the political leader, the king or queen, is ordained by the Christian God to be in power. So when a protestant was in power, everyone from the nobles to the peasants were expected to convert and to believe, in their heart of hearts, that this new religion was the one true religion. Then when a Catholic took the throne, the people would again have to convert and know that in their heart of hearts, that this new religion was the one true religion. Some monarchs, like Elizabeth I, said, you know what? This isn’t fair. As long as you practice the faith you believe in, I don’t care if your religion matches mine. That worked for about five minutes, until Pope Regnans in Excelsis said that, because she was a protestant, she was not the legitimate Queen of England and anyone who assassinated her was doing God a service and would be forgiven. Now Elizabeth had to be wary of all Catholics, which did little to ease political tensions in the time period. Add in some international conflicts, like wars between England and Spain, and mix in a Virgin Queen and the fear of no apparent heir causing another War of the Roses (for you Game of Throne fans, the War of the Roses is the political conflict that inspired the fantasy series) and you get a lot of turmoil and a lot to criticize.

During this time of constant conversion, poets like John Donne issued a challenge through his poem Satire III to the logic behind forced conversion with such lines as:

Keep the truth which thou hast found; men do not stand
In so ill case, that God hath with his hand
Sign’d kings’ blank charters to kill whom they hate;
Nor are they vicars, but hangmen to fate.

Donne states that God has not given Kings the right to force conversion, nor execute the populous for their religious beliefs. In England during the Early Modern Period, religion and politics were intertwined so criticizing the way the crown handled religion was a political issue and one, as Donne alludes to in this poem, that can lead to execution.

Dystopian Fiction: Where’s the Sexism and Racism?

Literature is reflective of the society it is written in. This holds true for Young Adult (YA) novels and other forms of dystopian fiction. Slate recently ran an article asking why dystopian movies avoid sexism and racism. The answer is simple: a lot of dystopian books that are turned into movies barely touch on racism or sexism, so the source material is lacking the narrative to be put into movies in the first place.

I think it’s easy for people to say “so what?” or to dismiss this concern by saying it’s not the goal of the author or the series to tackle these issues, but that just avoids the issue rather than excuses it. It’s important for us to be critical on the materials our society celebrates so we can better understand the society we live in and our society’s concerns. And, when we find that narrative doesn’t match our experiences, we can question why the mainstream wants to avoid these issues that we hold to be true.

That is to say, just because dystopian literature isn’t talking about sexism and racism doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Anyone who lives in a big city like Los Angeles can look outside and see the racial tensions happening outside of their windows. The rest of us can turn on the news and see report after report of Ferguson or New York or any other place where rights are being violated on the basis of color (and there are, unfortunately, many such cases).

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.


Is There a Link Between Our Favorite Childhood Books and Our Adult Political Ideals?

Recently, an online magazine called The Conversation ran a piece about how Harry Potter helped shape the political culture of a generation. I thought this claim was interesting, and I thought back to my own favorite childhood book series to see if I could find a connection between my favorite fantasy and my political ideals.

Here I will confess that I was too old to be on the Harry Potter bandwagon growing up. I was already in high school when the books started coming out, and it really wasn’t until I was an adult that I picked up and read the book series and watched the movies.

What I grew up with was a book series called The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. I read these as a young child and again as a young adult, out loud, to my little sister. These books are a series of offbeat fairy tales of a princess who refuses to be short, blond, and submissive to a prince. She was strong willed and insisted on having adventures of her own, mostly involving dragons. She did things outside of the normal parameters of a fairy tale.

AWP 2014: Writing for Young Adults and The Author-Editor Relationship

In addition to the panel on unsympathetic characters, I attended several other panels while at AWP 2014. A few of these panels focused on writing Young Adult books, while most of the others dealt with the relationship between an author and editor. I learned different things from each panel.

The YA panels I went to focused a lot on how it’s okay to write about serious topics in YA literature—topics like politics, loss, abuse. These things are no less real for young adults than they are for the rest of us. As one panelist said, “Dying is the end of all of our stories.”

The authors discussed the “absent adults” in many YA novels. It’s a genre trope, but one that allows the author to get the parents out of the way so the young adult protagonist can live their life. At one point, the moderator asked the panelists why they write YA that is arguably dark. If you’re a writer who also tends to write darker pieces, this may be something you even ask yourself. Why are we attracted to sadness? The panelists agreed that young adults are looking for solace in the midst of chaos—to recognize that we are not in control. According to one panelist, they are looking to answer the question, “How do you walk around as if every thing’s normal?”