Introduction to Protest Poetry


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Introduction to Protest Poetry

  1. 1. ProtestPoetry<br />Climate Advocacy Institute<br />Dikili, Turkey – 2009<br />Martha LaBare<br />
  2. 2. James Baldwin<br />“You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can&apos;t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world... The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way ... people look at reality, then you can change it.” <br />
  3. 3. John Muir <br />“Write to connect:<br />Everything is hitched <br />to everything else.”<br />
  4. 4. George Bernard Shaw<br />“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.”<br />
  5. 5.
  6. 6. So:<br />Some of our writing workshops explore the traditions and forms of protest poetry -- including poems from your home countries, in your own languages and in English.  We’ll work with the poems you have brought to the institute, and with your own poems.  <br />Together we’ll consider the role of poetry in focusing people&apos;s attention on climate change and moving them to action.<br />
  7. 7. Schedule <br />On Friday, we’ll:<br />“read”/have you perform a range of poems from your home countries/cultures;<br />learn from each other the literary traditions and historical contexts these poems;<br />hear the music of each others&apos; languages in these works;<br />discuss our responses to these poems.<br />On Saturday (?), we’ll:<br />read/hear your own poems on climate change, and respond to these in a workshop – critiquing form, tone, audience, etc.;<br />consider how to use these in our advocacy work.<br />
  8. 8. Publishing<br />Week 2: Individual consults on your continuing work on your poems, on your revisions and edits. <br />Through Monday, 13 June: Rolling submissions -- poems you would like to be considered for our online magazine (yet to be titled—so think on that) and a chapbook. <br />
  9. 9. What is protest poetry?<br />Poetry doesn’t need a purpose. Or: Poetry has as many purposes as life, as language. Often, it assumed to be self-expression, sensitive, perhaps in a self-centered way. But we are our histories, our social contexts, living in complex times. Protest poetry cries against a wrong to be set right. Most of the wrongs are not new. As we focus on climate change, we are in traditions of caring for the land and other life forms, of environmentalism, of global vs. parochial views. <br />
  10. 10. Focus and Forms<br />All poets ATTEND. <br />They observe the world; they attend to sound and sense. And they attend to injustice, to conflicts of ideas, to relationships of the real and the ideal, to politics. Poets voice their own exploration and vision of truth, of truths larger than themselves. <br />In political or protest poetry, they use traditional poetic forms and they break free of forms. Smiley-face rhymes don’t suit segregation, apartheid, hunger, infant mortality, racial discrimination, oppression of freedom, destruction of the environment, gaps between the haves and the have-nots, the causes and consequences of climate change. But always, it’s poetry: language enjoying itself, wrapped in its own sounds (as Billy Collins has said). <br />
  11. 11. What’s different about protest poetry?<br />In one sense, a writer can give any poem (his/her own or another’s) to readers as a protest poem – a lyric inspired by the beauty of nature, a narrative of loss, a found poem. Context and purpose can make a poem protest.<br />
  12. 12. But often, protest poets’ language communicates a sense of urgency. <br />Their poems can have layers of meaning, become richer with each reading, but this is clear: they want to move people to new insights, to move people to action. <br />Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti has said: “ They say nothing is new under the moon, but poetry is news, and it’s important when it articulates a new vision of reality or an old vision in a surprising way. When it subverts the dominant paradigm.”<br />
  13. 13. Protest poems ask readers to question what is. <br />&<br />The poems are both narrow and not narrow. <br />&<br />They often address a contemporary and topical issue, and through this, they address universal themes, big questions of meaning. <br />&<br />In protest poetry, too, opposites are present and true: both the dignity and complexity and worth of humankind, and the tragedies that cripple and destroy us. <br />
  14. 14. What’s the power of protest poetry?<br />Protest poets have an advantage over reporters, writers of campaign posters or editorials or letters to the editor. Their poems bring their readers into the slum, to the rising sea or the rainforest; into the press conference or the boardroom; to Love Canal, the ozone layer, Kyoto. Kenseth writes about how protest poems work, how they differ from other modes: “The poem does not simply urge: ‘Think on these things.’ It pushes us into the fray, into an active ‘You are here!’” <br />
  15. 15. Our protest poetry comes from the people’s voices and our literary – and musical – traditions. It often appears often to be less formal than other poetry – more “street.” To break more “rules.” <br />But it is very FORMed.<br />It consciously uses concentrated language, images, voice, <br />to tell the story, to communicate the vision, the message <br />– to engage the reader or listener and to create the shared <br />experience of the poem. To appeal to the ear and to <br />the rhythm of the body, to the heart and the head. <br />
  16. 16. The strength of poetry as a vehicle of protest…………<br />Kenseth says: “The strength of poetry as a vehicle of protest is that a well-wrought poem involves us, blood and bone, heart and mind, in the experience providing and provoking the protest. A poem is that use of language and measure which reenacts in the reader what has already happened to the poet. <br />….[P]oems…make direct statement as to what the poem stands against, yet the supportive and organic presence of images bearing color, shape, landscape, person, motion, flight, falling, fire, etc. – supplies a context of quivering and lively sense that are raging quietly or noisily against the particular problemor injustice found in man or his universe.”<br />We look forward to hearing your poems on Friday.<br />