Poetry News

How the Value of Political Poetry Is Shaped in Dissonance

By Harriet Staff

Cynthia Cruz

Cynthia Cruz has penned an essay for VIDA Web on the evolution of "political poetry" over these past months since Trump's election, noting a rejection from Wave Books years ago that stated the press "does not publish 'political' poetry." Her central question now: "Why is 'political' poetry only important and necessary when it begins to affect the lives of white middle class poets?" More of the problem:

In the past weeks, several white, male middle class poets from the American literary establishment have published essays and posted Facebook updates insisting that now all poetry must be political. But why wasn’t my work publishable beforehand? Why is “political” poetry only important and necessary when it begins to affect the lives of white middle class poets? Matthew Zapruder, one of the white, male middle class poets who declined my manuscript, wrote and published an essay on political poetry —— in which he suggests a list of white middle class poets as experts on such writing.

What I am addressing here is the dissonance between experiences. Now that Trump’s election is infringing on the lives of white middle class Americans, the political is important. But for those of us who were already living marginalized lives, our work was deemed “political” before the election, and now that white middle class American poets find themselves affected, their work is allowed to be “political.” And so we are marginalized once again—our voices left out.

Meanwhile, I have been, my friends and lovers have been, struggling with survival for most if not all of our lives...

Later, Cruz proposes solutions:

I don’t know what other writers need to write right now. I am not one of those insisting we all need to write “political” poems especially since the definition of the political in American poetry is precarious. For the many writers I know who are suffering right now, their well-being and safety is the main priority. My own life has been political since the day I was born. Because I am Latina, because I come from a working poor/working-class family, have survived trauma and am living with chronic illness, because I live a precarious existence—living at and below the poverty line with no long-term health insurance, everything I write is “political.” Writing “politically” is not a choice or a luxury, it is not something I can choose not to do, just as I cannot choose to be someone other than who I am. “Political” is not something that happens from time to time or when events affect white, middle class writers.

We need to take good care of ourselves and we need to look and listen to one another. Those in positions of power in the literary community need to begin to be willing to give up their seats and give them to people who are not middle class, to people who don’t have access to them. Otherwise the writing world will continue to look the same—ruled by white, middle class writers with a few seats given to non-white middle class writers to keep the rest of us quiet.

Read all of "Where We Go From Here: On 'Political' Poetry and Marginalization."