Special Section: Contemporary “Political” Poetry, Edited by Tom Hibbard


Prompted by Barack Obama's election, a worldwide recession, continuing wars in the Middle East, growing perception of our global community, the call for these writings used the term "political poems." For me, these would include poems similar to nation-reflecting song lyrics such as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," folk songs, Bob Dylan, the Great Depression's "Hey Buddy Can You Spare Me A Dime." There is also a tradition of political poetry derived most directly from early 20th century leftist writers such as Kenneth Fearing, Muriel Rukeyser, Oppen, Dahlberg, Cowley and many others. But, today, the question remains: What is the basis of a political poem? History is part of it, reference to people and events. Biography. Economics. Political poems resonate with the import--both the despair and the vision--of an era. Lately I've been led by the "savage" realism of 1930s writers such as Dos Passos and James T. Farrell.  Why would Robert Cantwell title a book about strikers fighting cops The Land of Plenty? One reason might be because it is an escape from what Leslie Fiedler calls "this depressingly ongoing world with its depressingly immense Gross National Product--all, all illusions.” Strictly speaking, politics is illusion. But in relation to poetry, “political” means realism. It means uncovering the real problems of real people, the exalted palpability of the very surfaces of our deprivation, our sorrow and our hope. Toward this end, here are the offerings of fourteen contemporary poets with their current notions of political prosody. This small project is intended to be in no way exclusive. The only contribution previously published is Michael Rothenberg’s poem about Hurricane Katrina, which appeared in “Exquisite Corpse.” Credit for the March photos of still-hurricane-devastated New Orleans goes to Terri Carrion. The auto plant photos were taken by me in April. Two "visual poems" (Leftwich and Basinski) are enthusiastically included. Let the water taste like wine. -- T.H

Jim Leftwich
Murat Nemet-Nejat
Mark Wallace
Roberto Harrison
Mark DuCharme
Eileen Tabios
Michael Rothenberg
Mary Sands Woodbury
Michael Basinski
Chuck Stebelton
Larry Sawyer
Buck Downs
David Meltzer
Tom Hibbard


[Photo by Terri Carrion, March 2009]

[Photo by Terri Carrion, March 2009]

[Photo by Tom Hibbard]