Liberatory Poetry

Pretending poetry, or any considered creation, is not political is sheer ignorant (to put it poetically) or a lie. Pretending poetry is not political is itself extremely political, as poem or otherwise, extremely ideological.

“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see —
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

-Emily Dickinson

Split This Rock [poetry festival] calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national network of activist poets. The festival will explore and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world. It will feature readings, workshops, panel discussions on poetry and social change, youth programming, open mics, films, parties, walking tours, and activism.

Some further notes on the politics of art, from a discussion at Common Dreams

Non-programmatic instrumental music is in the realm of politics and morality, in that a choice was made to create it rather than to create something that does clearly partisan or more pointedly ethical work.

I think it’s great if people create and play non-programmatic instrumental music, as I do myself, because it’s enjoyable and empowering in a variety of ways; it’s a good in aspects largely outside of explicit morality and politics, typically, as it seems to me, and doesn’t seem to have drawbacks. However, in a predatory society, there is no doubt that the powers that be prefer such art to art that more explicitly threatens their unjust power and rule, and they work to constrain the production and distribution of overt liberatory art, which I also create and produce and attempt to distribute.

I don’t “reduce all art to two political categories” and I don’t think politics should “master” art, and have never said so. There are all kinds of ways to categorize art and many different reasons to produce it and experience it – to enhance one’s perception and imagination and so on, to name some reasons possibly apart from moral and political.

I often speak of status quo art to help make more clear what I mean by liberatory art – that it functions against an unjust status quo and for progress. Unlike you, I certainly don’t think the political realm is inferior to the aesthetic realm. In fact, much of the political and the aesthetic are inescapably intertwined and often manifest themselves in myriad works of art that intersect political and aesthetic spectrums in many ways, far beyond “two political categories.”

Some art does emphasize the liberatory more than other art – and that is one type of art that has a central role in social change. It’s not the only type of art, nor should it be. And it’s not the only type of art found in movements for social change. It seems clear though that liberatory art is the type of art most forcefully opposed by the reigning powers of injustice, probably because such art is the most threatening, the most powerful sort of art for change.


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