By Kelly Slivka
Sometimes poetry isn’t simply lovely but is also political, purposeful, powerful. Nelson Mandela’s death earlier this month refocused my attention on the importance of actively encouraging the tenets in which we believe. One way to do that is to use whatever skills or talents we can muster and use them to support something bigger and more significant than our single selves. Along this vein, art is used around the world to influence positive change, poetry included. Below are some poems, which – though not necessarily overtly principled – were written by poets who help us imagine and work toward a better world.
A New Reality Is Better Than A New Movie! by Amiri Baraka (from Poetry)
Amiri Baraka, also known as LeRoi Jones, was a member of the Beat poet scene of 1950s New York City and became a fierce civil rights activist in the 1960s, when he began to view his purpose as a poet and playwright more as a mission toward political change than an exploration of ideas. He’s widely considered one of the most influential African American luminaries of letters.
I Want to Go South Again: 1941 by Pablo Neruda (from Nobelprize.org)
While many might find Pablo Neruda most memorable for his passionate love poems, this Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet was at the forefront of politics in his country, serving as a diplomat and Communist senator before fleeing Chile in 1948, persecuted for his Communist connections. Though his political leanings might rankle some (anti-Communism writer Jorge Louis Borges called Neruda a “very good poet” but a “very mean man”), Neruda’s deep love for his homeland and the inspired poetry that resulted divulge an exquisite patriotism.
Atlantis by Mark Doty (from Poetry)
In two of his most notable collections, My Alexandria and Atlantis, extraordinary poet and memoirist Mark Doty struggles with the shadow of AIDS over his personal life after finding his partner to be HIV-positive. During the AIDS panic of the 1990s, Doty’s poetry brought necessary attention and compassion to this prominent disease and the maligned and misunderstood ranks who suffer from it.
She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo (from Poems Out Loud)
Joy Harjo is a member of the Muskogee Nation whose work tends to revolve around themes of feminism, environmental responsibility and her Native American heritage. In her own words, “I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings.”