Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Muse: Poems of Protest

Today's post spotlights two noteworthy volumes of protest poems that I've read and highly recommend.

Poems for Political Disaster (2017) ~ Edited by Timothy Donnelly, B.K. Fischer, Stefania Heim, and Matt Lord, the Boston Review's chapbook Poems for Political Disaster is the first in an intended series of responses to the November 2016 presidential election in the United States. U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera provides the Foreword, as well as the concluding poem "the experiment". Among the 35 other well-known contributing poets are Mary Jo Bang, Lucie Brock-Broido, Jericho Brown, Stephen Burt, Carolyn Forche, Peter Gizzi, Jorie Graham, Brenda Hillman, Major Jackson, Ilya Kaminsky, Amy King, Solmaz Sharif, and Matthew Zapruder. Their voices, while they collectively question, implore, provoke, and call out for resistance, remain as distinctive as they are necessary. Some remark on loss, others foreshadow dystopia, not a few look to hope, many affirm, as does Dara Wier in her poem "In Which Rising Inequality Eventually Triggers Countervailing Social Dislocations",

Anyone who feels good about any of this never wakes up again.
[. . .]
Anyone whose heart isn't broken begins breaking.

Boston Review on FaceBook and Tumblr

Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (W.W. Norton, 2016) ~ Compiled and edited by Philip Cushway, who conceived the two-years-long project, and Michael Warr, the poetry editor, this substantial and impressive, "unapologetically political" anthology offers work by a Who's Who of African American poets, including Amiri Baraka, Kwame Dawes, Nikkey Finney, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, Douglas Kearney, Ishmael Reed, Frank X Walker, and Pulitzer Prize-winners Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Tracy K. Smith, and Natasha Trethewey.

In addition to the poems by the 43 contributors, the beautifully produced 224-page book includes candid photographs by Victoria Smith of all the poets, as well as brief biographical statements and personal, often moving essays in which the poets trace their paths into poetry and what poetry means to them. Quotes and images of seminal figures, events, and posters that endow the highly relevant poetry with important historical and cultural context, from the earliest days of the Civil Rights Movement to the current #BlackLivesMatter movement, also are included. To bring together in a single, cohesive volume so many remarkable bearers of witness — poets who, Warr points out, "are collectively joined through the transformative work of truth-telling" — is a laudable achievement.

This is not a volume to read only once and put away on a shelf, though Warr writes that his hope is "that one day this book is a relic", for the urgency of its words attest to the considerable work remaining to all of us to do, if we are ever to realize what The Rev. Dr. William Barber II says in the Epilogue is "a longing for a moral movement that plows deep into our souls."

Cover Art

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