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Dean Rader on Poetry and Politics
Reflecting on the Occupy Berkeley meltdown, Dean Rader wrote this piece for Huffington Post, in which he questions whether or not poetry can bring about political change, seen primarily through the fact that Robert Hass wrote an op-ed, and not a poem, in response to his and others’ run in with Berkeley police.
From the article:
At the time of the Berkeley beatings, we just happened to be reading some particularly political poems by Pablo Neruda in my poetry class at the University of San Francisco, and the students were fascinated by the many ways in which poets turn to poetry as a vehicle for political commentary. One can think of Neruda’s “I’m Explaining A Few Things” compared to Wallace Stevens’s “The Men That Are Falling,” both of which are about the Spanish Civil War. However, the two poems, written only a few years apart, could hardly be more different in terms of tone, style, and directness.
My students were also intrigued by poetry as a viable vehicle for articulating political dissent and political opinion in the United States. We talked about why Hass chose to write an op-ed piece rather than a poem. For Neruda in Chile, India, or Spain in the 1930s, a poem was a more powerful vehicle than a newspaper, but in America in 2011, we all agreed that a prose piece in the Times gave Hass not only a wider audience but a level of credibility a poem might not.