Should Poets and Politics Mix?

“Stranded: Poet Mark Strand Preaches Political Indifference at UCI,” by Victor D. Infante from (reprinted from The Orange County Weekly), examines a comment made by Strand that poets should rise above politics in their poetry, as well as stating that rap and poetry share no connection.

Since I was not there to see the context of his answer, I cannot speak to Strand’s specific quotes. However, I think it’s difficult to separate poetry from music–whether verse/chorus/verse or rap songs. Slam poetry is definitely a poetic form and part of the poetry world, and there are many great slam poems that sound like rap without the “fat” beats. And many song lyrics read as free verse and/or metered poetry if you remove the accompanying music.


Also, I’m conflicted about the politics and poetry not mixing idea. This is very dangerous–on both sides of the trenches.

On one side, poetry that is all politics can be more than a little preachy, which can alienate many readers–much like a door-to-door salesperson or that crazy guy who stands on soapboxes all day warning of the end of the world. You know, sometimes the message can kill the poem’s effectiveness as a poem.

On the other side, poets who don’t report the world as they see it do a disservice to their time and place, as well as the readers of their specific time and place. Avoiding politics can cause readers to feel displaced from the writing of the poet. Not every poem has to be timeless, after all. Neruda understood this when he tackled both the timely (politics) and timeless (love) topics.

And really the best poetry that I read tries to get at both the timely and timeless at the same time. It’s that juxtaposition that really gets me jazzed up.

Of course, I’d love to hear others thoughts on this as well.


(Also, apologies to Mark Strand for having this particular article singled out. I really don’t know in what context he made various comments–so don’t let this post affect your opinion of him. However, this article did get me thinking about some important issues we all face as poets. Strand is a great poet, and I suggest you read plenty of his work if you haven’t already.)


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One thought on “Should Poets and Politics Mix?

  1. Jim K.

    In content and style, poetry has worked its way
    into the vast scale and scope of a modern art.
    I should think rap would be a very minor scope accomodation,
    not a violation. It’s been a small but present
    feature at open mics in the Powow’s home turf
    of Newburyport, and was the main staple at
    "East Meets Word" in Cambridge MA. Will it stay?
    Difficult to say. But its effect already percolates
    through even the odd sonnet, for "flavah".
    Language is alive.

    In politics, it’s always dodgy figuring out
    the right timing and message. And it’s easy to
    poke at an art that isn’t booming like baseball.
    But politics has woven in and out of poetry for
    centuries, as culture must, and one must look
    askance at throttling suggestions in an open art.
    Let the consumer factions pick what fruits they
    will, but beware of logs and moats.
    Some of the most accomplished poets in traditional
    forms stepped up to the plate with others in
    the "Poets Against the War" collection. It’s hard
    to say what exactly ‘should’ have been done,
    but we live in a place where hopefully the
    freedom to speak your heart is not stepped on.

    It was JS Mill who connected the freedom to speak
    with the freedom to think.
    Anyway..down off yer box, then, Jimmy.


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