I'll admit to having written some crappy (and mediocre) political poems back when I was a student at U Mich, and I may have even smelled like patchouli then, too. I was reading too much Ginsberg and burning too much incense, and feeling too much in love with the world. Against Forgetting was my new bible. Even now, a lot of the poetry that I like is "political" in some way, whether it's Zbigniew Herbert or James Allen Hall or Pablo Neruda or Cate Marvin.
The other day I was talking to my MFA students about writing funny poems that don't make some kind of statement about The Human Condition. I feel guilty when I'm not saying something deeper, even if the something deeper is that you shouldn't hang out in a burned-down barn with strangers. I wonder how many of us feel the same obligation, but try not to have too much of an overt, preachy message. We wouldn't want to get political or anything, right?
People have told me that my poems make a political statement about women, and blighted areas of the country, and that is absolutely intentional. I don't think I could write more than five poems without alluding to those themes in some way. But the poems aren't like this:
You crap-land, you snap-land.
Your red states and head states.
Your parkas and hot dog stands.
I shake my fist at all the haterz.
Down to all the big box stores.
I am your sweet hometown vixen.
Won't you love me back some day?
(then some kissing sounds)
I think that the most effective political poems are the ones that don't announce themselves as such, and just sneak up on you. The kinds of poems that make you think differently about the world. The kinds of poems that you'll never be able to shake.
Any thoughts about "political poetry" in our current climate? Will it make a comeback? Do we have an obligation, as poets, to comment upon the world at large? And how exactly do we do that?