By Michael Dowdy
Dowdy uncovers and analyzes the first rhetorical options, really figures of voice, in American political poetry from the Vietnam conflict period to the current.
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Additional resources for American Political Poetry into the 21st Century (American Literature Readings in the Twenty-First Century)
He was martyred, then, before he was forced either to make poetry out of the context of war, or, in the words of Wallace Stevens, to evade the “pressure of reality” on the imagination by ignoring the environment around him. Stevens styles the question this way: retreat inward or take on the world’s horrors? His lectures on poetry and politics suggest the early modernist’s estimation of the poet’s zero–sum game. 2 In this view, then, the role of the referential world of social and political events, conditions, and observable realities is paramount in the writing process, even if the poet chooses to evade that world.
The Colonel,” which relates the speaker’s experience of eating dinner at a Salvadoran general’s house, begins with a blunt assertion of first-person experience and a demand for the reader to see the poem as “true”: “What you have heard is true. ” The lines that follow include a selective, detailed description of the evening’s events and the house in which they occurred. The lines that anchor the self-conscious strategy move auspiciously from the poem’s most shocking images and its past tense verbs to the present tense: “He spilled many human ears on the table.
Baker’s understanding of poetry as “disruptive performance” and as a “sounding space of opposition” also opens up space for hip-hop lyrics to be read as poems. Poetry, for Baker, is an “alternative space of the conditional,” a notion important in many formulations of political poetry (94–96), especially in the ways that poems can create imaginary visions of justice and injustice. Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace, too, claim that hip-hop is “serious poetry” and that it was the first music to begin creative work on the “threat of economic inequality to American ideals” (98–100).