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Nine ‘Political Poems’ from The Rumpus Might Ease Election-Related Stress

By Harriet Staff

The Rumpus throws out nine “post-election political poems you must read before you die” (we already pointed you to Rod Smith) in order to provide some “serious respite from the post-mortem and the voting stress”; their list includes Lowell, Ginsburg [sic], Rich, and more. All nine (direct links to poems at original site, never fear):

“A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto” by Czezlaw Milsoz. The most important poem of our time to dramatize the severities of civilization’s guilt and state-sponsored murder.

“Baltics” by Tomas Transtromer. It defines a social consciousness coming awake in the world, a consciousness that threads both the political and interior moment.

“Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich. All the while it buries one poetic tradition, it births another into existence. Its irrefutable argument assimilates, integrates, and overcomes one identity for another and inspires more than feminist flowering. I mean, it un-ruins the ruins. A poem the world will be reading for centuries.

“For the Union Dead” by Robert Lowell. There are days I believe that this is the best American political poem of the 20th century. Yes, best. It combines confessional urgency with historical judgment. Its confrontation of race carved between New England’s Protestant-Catholic divide dramatizes the progressive experience of seething. Don’t be fooled: That kind of utterance is nearly impossible to pull off without collapsing into partisan cant.

“Howl” by Allen Ginsburg. For real, this poem gets better with age. It is the most Occupy Poetry poem of the last sixty years. It glorifies the marginalized and the revolutionary. All the while, like Whitman’s “Lilacs” poem, it is also an elegy and full of broken-hearted yearn-age.

“I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes. How Hughes renders defiance as surprise makes this one of the most elegant political poems in our language.

“Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova. It translates one woman’s political suffering into a lyric utterance. It confirms one nation’s bout with its own terror. And more: it defines harrow and anguish into myth.

“The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats. This poem eviscerates the idea that political poetry must be occasional. It is of political experience not about one. Though it is strangely difficult to summarize or paraphrase, the political consciousness in this poem, certainly fearful of power, is also an aesthetic sculpture of lyric purity.

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” by Walt Whitman. It is nearly a perfect elegy — an elegy as ars poetica even — defining both Republic and private loss. The section about Union and Confederate soldiers returning to their disembodied agrarian lives while the 16th president lies in state as the last casualty of the war is Whitman at his most interiorly bardic fineness.


Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.