where the feature stated, “I hate political poems,” as he then proceeded to read what may or may not have been construed as a “political poem.” But this begs the question: Is there a place for politics in poetry?
I would argue that any thought-provoking topic has a place in poetry (or art), be it nature, religion, unrequited love, or even politics. I would argue that the problem is whether or not politics is approached with open-mindedness by both the audience and the artist.
Yes, that’s right. The artist too.
Exhibit A. I once attended a reading where this very issue became more than just a hypothetical question. A young man, who said he had never attended a poetry reading before, stood up to read during the open mic portion of the evening. He introduced himself as just having returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and he read a few very sincere pieces about his personal experience with war.
The very next open mic reader of the evening stood up and read a bombastic, anti-war piece.
Shortly thereafter, the young veteran stormed out the door. I’ve never seen him at a reading anywhere around town since.
Exhibit B. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but often at readings, I’m approached by people (often those who don’t know me very well) who begin a political monologue with me. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the speaker, I’m immediately made uncomfortable because the speaker almost always approaches in such a way that he or she assumes that I automatically agree. I generally answer with polite silence, and the person strolls off happily, assuming, still, that I agree.
Yes, I know that as writers, we’re supposed to espouse the values of freedom of speech and all that entails. Yes, I know that, as artists, we need to be open-minded to other, often conflicting opinions.
But isn’t open-mindedness a two-way street? Doesn’t the poet need to be open-minded enough to recognize that even though someone may disagree, he or she shouldn’t be made to feel immoral, ignorant, stupid, evil, Neanderthal, or insert your disparaging adjective of choice here. Opinions can be stated and complex issues SHOULD be discussed, but in such a way that there is enough wiggle room left for someone to state an opposing opinion without being subject to—pardon the reference—a pre-emptive strike.
Dogmatism, whether you’re talking about religion, politics, or the best brand of ketchup, does nothing to improve inter-human relationships. And more often than we care to admit, I think political poetry unfortunately veers into dogmatism. Shouldn’t poetry be opening the doors to discussion and free exchange rather than closing them to maintain a pool of homogenous opinions?