Poetry and Politics

As the striking young woman in the vibrant yellow coat approached the podium at the presidential inauguration earlier this year the world held its breath. Amanda Gorman represents the voice of a new political era, an embodiment of hope and a testament to the potential for change. Her words were not the empty promises of populist leaders but were enthusiastic declarations of joy and purpose. Whether sat two meters or two million miles away, her words rang true across every nation:

We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”

Yet to many, poetry can come across as a pretentious endeavour, often filled with cryptic and elitist messages that renders its purpose futile. Whilst poetry serves a purpose on the page, emotively engaging its lone reader, how is it anything more than apolitical? As an artform it does not enact legislation, it does not create jobs, or prevent war. In a time of such intense politicisation – what purpose does it serve?

Amanda Gorman demonstrated just how powerful the tool of poetry can be, adding a new dimension to the political sphere. With the eyes of millions watching and waiting, she used her words to speak to the masses, drawing upon age old issues of division and mobilisation in a new refreshing manner. Poetry does just that, it refreshes and renews language to which we have become habituated, it transforms and betters the limitations of mundane language with a renewed sense of imagination. It combines private and public language, facilitating communication and connection, releasing us from the mundane pressures we often experience as a cog in the twenty-first-century machine.

Poetry and language are often at the heart of social movements. If you take Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, as an example, it demonstrates a successful collaboration of art and politics in a call for unity and justice. Poetry here is not the overly metaphorical, misleading words we often see in our old school syllabus, it’s a method of advocation for the power of art to represent the language of the people.

In a recent interview with Michelle Obama, Gorman makes clear the pertinent need for collective will in the moment that we are currently living – “We’re living in an important moment in Black art because we are living in an important moment in Black life” – She advocates that “poetry is the lens we use to interrogate the history we stand on and the future we stand for.” From one young activist to another young mind, Gorman is spurring on the next generation of activists, thinkers and change makers. She is calling on the voices of young poets, young creatives to rehabilitate language that has fallen victim to manipulation, to appreciate the history behind the words and transform political jargon that is used to dehumanise and divide, into something more beautiful and true.

Whilst poetry might not find its place inside the stuffy walls of Parliament, with literary figures such as George Orwell warning against its imprecise language that leads to imprecise thinking, the artform as a force for political activism should be heralded and respected as a tool for which collective will can be established and reignited.

Poetry here is a call, for us all to rise to justice and settle for nothing less. In the words of Gorman, it’s not a question of if but how. She paints a clear pathway for those who wish to continue to create political art – post on every platform, continue the making of collective initiatives amongst peers and perhaps recognition in the form of an inaugural speech will come your way, or perhaps it will not.

For young poets who aspire to use words for change, celebration and recognition does not come in the form of presidential or political acknowledgement but recognition through rallying change and solidarity. The celebration of art amongst politics is an incredible step forward in advocating for change through creative expression which can resonate with so many, despite borders, despite age, and despite political agenda.

For those who look back to the inauguration day of 2021, they will remember the young woman in the yellow coat, the young woman who politically empowered the people through poetry.

-Lotti Norman

Featured Image Source: Still via Youtube / TIME – “Amanda Gorman on Poetry, Beauty, and Sudden Fame”

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