We're excited to launch our first episode of Politics and Poetry, a new podcast about the power of poetry to engage us in political conversations. Join three generations of political activists and poetry lovers as we read and share a curated collection of ideas written by critics, reporters, authors, poets, historians and politicians to spur thoughtful discussion about the ways that poets and politicians use voice, rhyme, rhythm, meter, verse and alliteration to capture our interest and spark change.
Angelou, M. (1944). The complete collected poems of Maya Angelou. Random House Inc.
Dove, R. (1992). Demeter's Prayer to Hades. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?volume=161&issue=1&page=27
Frost, R. (1969). The poetry of Robert Frost. Henry Holt & Co.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. (n.d.). Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, June 14, 1956. https://www.jfklibrary.org/archives/other-resources/john-f-kennedy-speeches/harvard-university-19560614
Lorde, A. (1997). The collected poems of Audre Lorde. W. W. Norton and Company Inc.
Lundberg, J. (2008, October 1). The poetry of a political speech. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-poetry-of-a-political_b_122472
Assaf M. and Nadir T. (2014). "Poetry and poets in the public sphere". Israel Affairs. 20 (2): 141–160.
Oliver, M (1994). A poetry handbook. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Orr, D (2008). "The Politics of Poetry". Poetry. 192 (4): 409–418.
Ó Tuama, P. (2020-present). Poetry Unbound [Audio Podcast]. The On Being Project. https://onbeing.org/series/poetry-unbound/
Parker, D. (2010). Complete poems. Penguin Books.
Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). Political Poems. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/144562/political-poems
Quart, A (2019, October 23). Elizabeth Warren has a poet on her team The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/23/opinion/political-poetry.html?searchResultPosition=1&fbclid=IwAR18c-ZwxUf5jhiaMxVXmI5dizsG3Yc24duUFahs_9ry3AB4FS_o5j1y54Y
Shelley, P. B. (2009). A defence of poetry. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69388/a-defence-of-poetry
Warren, E. (2015). A fighting chance. Macmillan.
Williams, M. (1999). Some jazz a while. University of Illinois Press.
PolyArchive. (2015). William Butler Yeats on poetry. https://polyarchive.com/william-butler-yeats-on-poetry/
Yeats, W. B. n.d. When you are old. http://www.columbia.edu/~ey2172/yeats.html
Elizabeth Alexander - www.elizabethalexander.net
Rita Dove -https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/rita-dove
Audre Lorde - www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/audre-lorde
David Orr - www.davidorr.com
Padraig O’Tuama - www.padraigotuama.com / https://onbeing.org/series/poetry-unbound/
Dorothy Parker - https://dorothyparker.com/
Alissa Quart- www.alissaquart.com
Elizabeth Warren - https://elizabethwarren.com
Miller Williams - www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/miller-williams
Welcome to the first episode of Politics and Poetry, a bi-monthly 30 minute discussion about the nexus of politics and poetry. We are so excited to launch this idea that we created during the recent campaign for Georgia House District 35. I'm Lisa Campbell, former candidate for the Georgia General Assembly, a lifelong political activist, and a lifelong poetry lover. Our show is all about the intersection between politics and poetry. I'll be joined today, and each week, by co-hosts my father, Ron Campbell.Ron Campbell:
Hello, everyone. Thank you for being with us today.Lisa Campbell:
And my niece, Lexi Hunter.Lexi Hunter:
Hello there.Lisa Campbell:
We'll be inviting other guests like poets, politicians, and activists, as well as, people who give a damn. We believe that politics and poetry are essential to understanding the meaning of citizenship. During our campaign, during these times of great political unrest, division, unprecedented conflict, and even pandemic in our state and in our nation, we want to have a hopeful conversation about when, where, and how words, poetry, and politics come together. As we produce each episode, we want to uncover the reasons why these two long standing elements of our society, politics and poetry, have garnered such a negative reputation, and are now often portrayed as lofty, pretentious, unattainable, or even disconnected from our everyday lives.Lexi Hunter:
Well, that is a lot to cover! I'm Lexi Hunter. I'm a writer, musician, feminist, and more recently, a campaign coordinator. During Lisa's campaign for State House Representative, our committee met almost every day to discuss current issues, campaign strategy, and to share ideas about creating change. After our run-off loss, we decided that we wanted to keep the conversation going. Frequently, our daily conversations circled back to these common themes, big ideas related to equality, democracy, and inclusion, or often lack thereof, in our environment; active citizenship and ways to create common good in our society, especially during this highly partisan and increasingly divided election year. We were often inspired by political quotes and speeches, many of which were based on the words of poets.Lisa Campbell:
That's right. So we've been doing a lot of reading and research. We've been taking a look at political speeches and poems as we've been preparing to launch our podcast. We've been listening; listening to other poets, listening to other politicians, and listening to each other. We're huge fans of Padraig O'Tuama. We've been listening to his amazing podcast; it's called, Poetry Unbound. We love what he says about poetry, that it is,"unexpected human encounters, unexpected moments, something surprising." He says that poetry is, "Asking us to be brave, to go into the moments of our own failure, and then to narrate, in the possibility that we may offer some compassion." When we heard him speak these words, we couldn't help but think that the same is true of our political endeavors, and our calls to citizenship.Lexi Hunter:
So why do so many easily opt out of both politics and poetry?Lisa Campbell:
Really good question.Lexi Hunter:
Right? You know, you hear it all the time, people say things like, "Oh, I'm just not that into politics," or, "I don't get poetry. " It's these reactions and ideas that we want to explore here. We want to discuss our role as citizens in politics and poetry. Can we opt out? What happens if we do opt out? Can we just ignore them? Can our democratic republic survive? What happens if we don't? There are a lot of questions here. Is there power in words repeated and shared through a diversity of voices? Can we persuade, evolve, change, and thrive?Lisa Campbell:
That's right, so many questions! While we may not be able to answer all of them in this podcast, we will hope to spark conversations and thoughts about politics and poetry, exactly as you just described. And, we are certainly not opting out! Just the opposite. We think that there may be something very positive about providing exposure for the lyrics, the words, the passion, and the people who create them.Lexi Hunter:
So, is there a nexus for politics and poetry? What is it? According to, "The Politics of Poetry", by David Orr, "poetry and politics connect through expression and feeling, although both of them are matters of persuasion." Orr believes that, "Political poetry connects to people's feelings and politics connects to current events." When we think of successful political leaders, we think of people like presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln, or senators like John Lewis, Max Cleland, or Jen Jordan. And we agree that they do both. "They are natural storytellers who get you to care about current events, because they want to make you feel something. Then they ask you to think about your role in the environment and how that connects you and your feelings with others." (David Orr)Lisa Campbell:
That's right. When you think about the speeches that each of those presidents and senators have made, they're so powerful, right? Poetry can also make very direct political references and have real effects on the perception of politics. If we go back again to David Orr, he believes that, "Political poetry can impact readers because both politics and poetry express personal and often emotional views, with political poetry often defined as being a specific political situation, rooted in an identifiable political philosophy; often addressing a particular political actor; usually written in language that can be understood and appreciated by its intended audience." Finally, and this is really important,"That it's offered in a public forum, (like on the inaugural stage, or on the floor of Congress, or even at a political rally), where it can have maximum persuasive effect." So in essence, he's talking about combining the forces of a political mind, a passionate advocate, and then, "Using the lyrical aspect of poems to really create that emotional connection, and hopefully, spur action." (David Orr)Lexi Hunter:
"Political poetry has existed from the earliest times and originates from all over the world. It is often the opening of a door for conversation, whether that's with others or even with yourself. Poetry can offer a deeper connection. Through the reader's point of view, political poetry conveys and expresses political ideas, which then shapes how it's going to be read." So going back to David Orr, he said, "poetry might be perceived as political by its audience, even if the writer did not mean to convey political message or ideas, values, praise or even criticism. Poetry uses emotion to convey messages that poets can get across, incorporating the use of culture and politics." (David Orr)Lisa Campbell:
It's interesting to reflect how poems may also change and evolve based on the time in which they're written and our perception, or the time in which they're read. Ron, I know you have some favorite poems and favorite politicians.Ron Campbell:
Yes! John F. Kennedy, our 35th President, linked poetry to politics when he said, "If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a better place in which to live." Both poets and politicians draw from experience and emotion, and frequently intend to convey a story of human connection, or persuasion. Political poetry incorporates these two ideas together as well, creating something that both influences the audience and convinces them as to the main idea of the poem, and possibly to action. William Butler Yeats, an Irish senator in 1922, believed that, "...rhetoric stems from our confrontations with others while poetry stems from our confrontations with ourselves." (David Orr)Lisa Campbell:
Well, I knew Yeats was a poet, but I have to admit, I didn't know he was an Irish Senator. Some of our best political speeches are full of poetry, aren't they? Most notably in their emphasis on rhythm. "Sometimes the metrical regularity of formal verse, and other times the cadences of the Bible. Many great preachers, like Martin Luther King, seized on this and used it to great effect, and Walt Whitman turned it into his grand and rolling verse too." It's rhythm that Mary Oliver describes, in her book, A Poetry Handbook. She says, "when we feel a pleasurable rhythm, we hope it will continue. When it does, the sweet grows sweeter. When it becomes reliable, we are in a kind of body-heaven." And when I read that, I thought, okay, what is a body heaven in poetry? But, I'm pretty sure that's what happens when you listen to Barack Obama talk about hope and change, or Stacey Abrams talk about having your voice and your vote matter. (Mary Oliver)Lexi Hunter:
Yes! You know, I can totally imagine that rolling that you hear from an old timey preacher. It's almost like music.Ron Campbell:
According to John Lundberg, in his article, "The Poetry of Political Speech, "In addition to rhythm, repetition, is another commonly used poetic technique. When it's well delivered orally, or on the page, repetition ratchets up the intensity of a poem or speech. Each reappearance of a familiar phrase becomes a brief moment of pleasure and repetitions build on each other, heightening the effect." (John Lundberg)Lisa Campbell:
Another great example of poetic repetition can be heard in this quote from Senator Elizabeth Warren's autobiography, and here she's drawing on poetic language, and she's deployed melodious techniques of repetition. When she talks about a time when her father has lost his job and the family is worried. And she says,"And there's my mother. She is in her slip and her stocking feet and she is saying, 'We will not lose this house. We will not lose this house. We will not lose this house'." (Alissa Quart)Ron Campbell:
Wow, the alliteration in that poem conveys and heightens the anxiety a child might feel watching a parent worry. It works to connect us through shared experience of the fear and anxiety so many Americans have faced over the years when dealing with hardship and loss. Let's look at the power of refrain and another famous speech that Winston Churchill delivered on June 4, 1940, during the early dark days of World War II, " We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our islands, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender." (Winston Churchill)Lexi Hunter:
Well, that's pretty powerful, granddad. I recently read an article by Alissa Quart, reporter and the author of, Thoughts and Prayers. She shared this and I quote, "Should we be surprised about a link between the highest levels of our political world and our most acclaimed poetry?" She answers,"I don't think so." And she thinks, "That we should get ready for more of it, because it's coming, and we need it desperately. As we have witnessed recently with the presidential debates, political rhetoric can be so mangled these days. We hear it daily with terms like fake news, referring to journalism, and offensive terminology and political speeches." Aunt Lisa, did you know that Elizabeth Warren has a poet on her team? (Alissa Quart)Lisa Campbell:
I did not. But that's pretty cool.Lexi Hunter:
Yeah, her name is Camonghne Felix and she became the Director of Surrogates and Strategic Communications for Senator Elizabeth Warren's Presidential campaign back in June. We agree with Alissa that,"This was a really good idea because political rhetoric has gotten toxic and empathy fatigue has set in. We can probably all agree that a more creative communication approach to combat this disconnection is a way to bridge this growing divide."(Alissa Quart)Lisa Campbell:
Totally. Going back to Alissa Quart, (and we hope she will join us as a guest in the future), she's just written a book a politically minded poetry and has started an initiative to support documentary poetry, which is reported poetry based on interviews, or oral histories. She believes that, "Mixing poetry and politics is more than just fun in today's moment, or a hybrid experiment. She thinks, and we agree, that "It's also crucial because so many of us are faced with a sense of social powerlessness that can set in after one too many stories," about as you were referencing, Lexi, say "tax evasion by our political leaders, or hacking in our election, or white nationalists on the march, or when readers become inured to the stories of the many destructive wildfires in California. When this happens, we can no longer bring ourselves to feel, to read, to stay engaged, or even vote after being bombarded by too much bad news." (Alissa Quart)Ron Campbell:
Dorothy Parker would have had a field day in today's world of fake news, with her ability to lure readers into a false sense of security, before revealing a trailblazing tendency to ridicule the hypocrisy of so many leaders. Dorothy was an acclaimed poet that often poked fun at official rhetoric and political allegories. (Poetry Foundation) Here is her poem, "In the American Manner" by Dorothy Parker. "I dunno yer highfalutin' words, but here's th' way it seems When I'm peekin' out th' winder o' my little House o Dreams; I've been lookin' 'roun' this big ol' world, as bizzy as a hive, An' I want t' tell ye, neighbor mine, it's good t' be alive. I've ben settin' here, a-thinkin' hard, an' say, it seems t' me That this big ol' world is jest about as good as it kin be, With its starvin' little babies, an' its battles, an' its strikes, An' its profiteers, an' hold-up menth' dawggone little tykes! An' its hungry men that fought fer us, that nobody employs. An' I think, 'Why, shucks, we're jest a lot o' grown-up little boys!' An' I settle back, an' light my pipe, an' reach fer Mother's hand, An' I wouldn't swap my peace o' mind fer nothin' in the land; Fer this world uv ours, that jest was made fer folks like me an' you Is a purty good ol' place t' live say, neighbor, ain't it true?" (Dorothy Parker)Lisa Campbell:
Well, it is a pretty good place to live. But so much work yet to accomplish anything like the American dream. And going back to Alissa Quart just one more time, you know, she states powerfully and I'm quoting, "what poetry can do is make some of these phenomenon vivid and personal in a way that we're not used to. If the language we hear on television no longer stirs us to do anything more than tweet our dismay, poetry can express something new (or something old in a new way), and this can energize us to take action."(Alissa Quart)Ron Campbell:
And as we go back to Padraig O'Tuama, he observed recently, "Poetry bows down to unexpected human encounters, to unexpected moments, to meetings with strangers that we have something surprising that comes out of nowhere." Interestingly, during our recent campaign, when phone canvassing, we saw similar opportunities. We were having conversations with strangers, not something that we do in everyday life exactly, that resulted in unexpected and shared moments of grief, of joy, excitement, and commitment. It was a poignant example of unexpected moments of the nexus of human poetry and politics.(Padraig O'Tuama)Lexi Hunter:
Another poet who writes about politics that we will take a deeper dive into in a future episode is Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde, was a passionate political poet, dedicated to confronting the social injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia through her work. Her poetry was powerfully rooted in her experiences as a black woman, a lesbian, a mother, and a lifelong warrior for equality. Here's a glimpse into the intersection of politics and poetry evident in her stunning work, "A Woman Speaks." These are her words. "I have been woman for a long time beware my smile I am treacherous with old magic and the noons new fury with all your wide futures promised I am woman and not white." Not a politician, Audre Lorde knew the power that her words held, and that it would have the weight to move her listeners.(Poetry Foundation, Audre Lorde)Ron Campbell:
Presidents have also frequently requested poetry at inaugurations or important national events. John F. Kennedy requested Robert Frost; Bill Clinton invited Maya Angelou and Miller Williams; and Obama asked Dr. Elizabeth Alexander. Percy Bysshe Shelley is another poet who made a connection between politics and poetry when he called poets, "the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Let's hear a few lines from some of these poetic legislators. (Poetry Foundation)Lexi Hunter:
Okay, I will start with, "On the Pulse of Morning" by Maya Angelou. "But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully, Come, you may stand upon my Back and face your distant destiny..." (Poetry Foundation, Maya Angelou)Ron Campbell:
And here's an example of great use of emphasis with rhyme. "Of History and Hope" by Miller Williams. "But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how except in the minds of those who will call it Now?" (Poetry Foundation, Miller Williams)Lisa Campbell:
One of my all-time favorites is Robert Frost. He can move mountains and minds with his words. This is from, "The Gift Outright" by Robert Frost. "Something we were withholding made us weak Until we found out that it was ourselves." (Poetry Foundation, Robert Frost)Ron Campbell:
In addition to political speeches, in future episodes, we're going to be sharing the history of the Poet Laureate here in America, and around the world. Our own Georgia State official Poet Laureate, Rita Dove is one of our recent US Poet Laureates. At just 40 years old, in 1993, she was the youngest to date. Her work pulls from her personal history, and other art forms to weave enchanting stories and create wildly vivid images. Here are a few words from her poem, "Demeter's Prayer To Hades, Adolescence II, I Have Been a Stranger in a Strange Land," by Rita Dove. "There are no curses only mirrors held up to the souls of gods and mortals. And so I give up this fate, too. Believe in yourself, go ahead see where it gets you."(Poetry Foundation, Rita Dove)Lisa Campbell:
There are no curses only mirrors. Wow. Pretty sage advice for individuals and perhaps to our nation as a whole right now. We're going to close but we hope you enjoyed this initial conversation, and that you'll join us again for Politics and Poetry. We'd love to hear from you about your favorite poets, politicians, political speeches, and where you see the intersection of politics and poetry in your life. Feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, you can direct message us on all the social media channels. You can find us @PoliticsandPoetry on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Pinterest. We'll also be sharing links to all the poems, poets, politicians and speeches we've been sharing. Those will be on our podcast page at Politicsandpoetry.org. Today, we'd like to end with the poem that was read for President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1997. Poet, editor, critic and translator, Miller Williams was born in Arkansas in 1930. He was the son of a Methodist clergyman and a civil rights activist. Miller's work is known for its gritty realism, as much as for its musicality. Equally comfortable and formal and free verse, Williams wrote poems grounded in the material of American political life. He frequently used dialogue, and dramatic monologue, to capture the pitch and tone of American voices. A side note for all you music lovers out there, he's also the father of the singer songwriter, Lucinda Williams, and we're huge fans of hers as well. (Poetry Foundation, Miller Williams) Williams was honored as the country's third inaugural poet, reading his poem, Of History and Hope, at the start of former President Clinton's second term. Here is Of History and Hope, by Miller Williams. "We have memorized America, how it was born and who we have been and where. In ceremonies and silence we say the words, telling the stories, singing the old songs. We like the places they take us. Mostly we do. The great and all the anonymous dead are there. We know the sound of all the sounds we brought. The rich taste of it is on our tongues. But where are we going to be, and why, and who? The disenfranchised dead want to know. We mean to be the people we meant to be, to keep on going where we meant to go. But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how except in the minds of those who will call it Now? The children. The children. And how does our garden grow? With waving hands, oh, rarely in a row, and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow. Who were many people coming together cannot become one people falling apart. Who dreamed for every child an even chance cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not. Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head cannot let chaos make its way to the heart. Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot. We know what we have done and what we have said, and how we have grown, degree by slow degree, believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become just and compassionate, equal, able, and free. All this in the hands of children, eyes already set on a land we never can visit, it isnt there yet, but looking through their eyes, we can see what our long gift to them may come to be. If we can truly remember, they will not forget." (Miller Williams)