For some reason, I decided to re-read bits of a speech that the late great Adrienne Rich had given upon the occasion of being given an award (her remarks were published by Norton as a sort of chapbook under the title Poetry and Commitment).
She references the American poet James Scully, who (according to Rich) calls ‘protest poetry’ conceptually shallow, reactive, predictable, and typically featuring hand wringing from the sidelines. She then includes brief quote from Scully:
Dissident poetry, however, does not respect boundaries between private and public, self and other. In breaking boundaries it breaks silences, speaking for, or at best, with the silenced; opening poetry up, putting it into the middle of life… It is a poetry that talks back, that would act as part of the world, not simply as a mirror of it.
This struck me because it came after some conversations with my father about political poetry, or, rather, its relative absence, at least in American poetry. And, of course, the recent passing of Amiri Baraka, the poet formerly known as LeRoi Jones.
Maybe Baraka exemplified best what Rich talks about, being committed.
She defends Shelley’s much maligned line about poets being unacknowledged legislators because Shelley did not know how nor conceived that he could separate his deeply held, liberal political views with his poetry nor that any other poet could. They were all from the same wellspring.
This just all sort of falls when I’m reading a lot of politically minded poetry. I picked some bell hooks the other night and am also reading Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters and even (though it’s not poetry) Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto (with an obnoxiously long foreword, I might add).
In honor of all this, here’s my terrible, awful attempt at what Scully would rightfully sneer at as protest poetry. He would probably also note that rhyming is not really my strong suit. Well, at least it’s political. I guess. I’ll almost certainly live to wish that I’d burned it, instead.
Rick Scott: An Ode
Do not throw those lying tapes, videos and quotes in my face – nay, I say, nay!