Poetry News

The Acrostic as a Tool of Resistance

By Harriet Staff
Arts council resignation letter

Emily O'Neill considers the poetic form of the acrostic as it proliferates across several Trump-admin resignation letters, most notably in a recent statement from the President’s Committee on The Arts and The Humanities in which members resigned their posts. "[A]ddressed directly to the commander in chief, was the word 'RESIST,' spelled using the first letter of each paragraph," she writes. More from Electric Lit:

Recently it feels as though the concrete and conceptual have indeed collapsed into one another. Statues of confederate generals are no longer outdated monuments to disgraced secessionists but rallying points for those who wish to maintain political power as the exclusive domain of white men. What better time for the return of the acrostic to common use than this moment, when we hear constant exhortations from both sides of the aisle demanding we show the world what it is America truly stands for? Choosing the most effective way to condemn the president isn’t something his detractors can afford to be subtle about. Though the acrostic is a kind of coded language, in the letters it serves to underscore their message of refusal to remain complicit in the failures of the current administration.


The current White House seems to throw out imprecise language on purpose so that it may revise on a constant basis, never committing its statements to a final draft. These revisions are often impromptu, inspired both by rhetorical circumstance and the audience of the moment. Extreme intentionality is antithetical to the Trump administration, making the acrostic form an especially powerful critical tool for those opposed to the president and his supporters.

Yoked with the responsibility of taking a strong stance against the dismantling of the arts and sciences as American institutions, people are turning to poetic forms as the best mode of denouncing Trump. It’s one thing to walk away from association with Trump and all his fumbling with a strong statement of disavowal, and I quite admire that action regardless of how it’s expressed. But to see poetry weaponized, so to speak, by those who are truly paying attention to how much of our democracy is unraveling is truly special. Trump seems to be counting on the public not noticing what he’s accomplishing behind a curtain of performative incompetence. Maybe it’s best we spell it out for him: he’s underestimating the arts as a tool for change.

Read on here.