Poetry with Teeth
Poetry has long been a form of activism. From the early Greek philosophers who wrote promoting their thoughts and ideas in the form of the acclaimed dialogue, contributing to the reshaping of their societies, to the greats of the Enlightenment that helped shape the Industrial Revolution to modern day activists and slam poetry, poems have always been used to play a role in identifying the connection between the material world around us and the relating emotions that run through our collective conscience.
Human beings are primarily creatures of emotion living in a society structured around the assumption that we are in fact, logical. Therefore we first and foremost examine our feelings with questions to make sense of the world around us. So all our standings in relation to external events are ultimately based on emotion and feeling, ‘rationality’ is simply what arises as the ultimate result of this examination, it’s roots are invariably plugged into some base ideology that is held as belief.
Poetry delineates emotions and can inspire raw feeling in people that can change their outlook. And, like any form of activism, poetic activism also changes and inspires society into taking new directions. It taps into people’s core feelings, identifies with them and exposes them. It inspires action sometimes, or sometimes just an understanding nod, but there is a message, and its usually enough if it is communicated.
Now we don’t need to get all hoity toity about it. You don’t have to be a Ph.D in philosophy or decked out with the finest wordplay of a slam poet’s arsenal to engage in activism. Poetic activism is everyday, its everywhere, its in blogposts, facebook notes, you tube. Anywhere there is creativity, emotion and an appeal to a change of norms, there is poetic activism.
If you haven’t already, check out Def Poetry Jam. If you haven’t already seen or heard of Def poetry then its time you did, they sound like rappers minus the bling bling and pro drug advocacy. Artistes like Steve Coleman, Lemon, Suheir Hammad, Rives etc. explore themes as diverse as racism, love, terrorism, nationalism and most other isms that you can think of, and then some.
Political tension and repressed emotions like fear and anger etc cause a lot of people to speak out. Sri Lanka has been a hotbed of fear, anger and suspicion especially over the past few months, when the war came finally crunching down to its bloody stop. From introspections of ‘water filter’ warriors fearing armed attacks on the way to work, to musings on the nature of the national flag, to the denouncing of barbaric practices, to patrotism and the spilling of blood, to my humble attempt at describing my feelings of dependence on independence day, to attempts at distilling freedom, individualism and control; poetic activism is all over the place. If you’re reading this, just click through some blogs and see what you can find. Or start writing yourselves.
There has been an increasing surge of poetry as a form of activisim throughout the last century, complicating W.H Auden’s claim that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’. Poetry, or poetic literature has influenced history throughout its existence. Or some like to think so. Significant events throughout history have always been accompanied by their own unique brand of literature and poetic activism, the most recent the African American uprising of the last century. But did these artists actually change societies with their craft? or were they simply a symptom of changing times? And are poets and poetic activists simply another brand of armchair/notebook/facebook warriors?
“poems are bullshit unless they have teeth” Amiri Baraka
Halik is a poet who blogs here, and occationaly graces Open Mic. He wrote a piece for the BB blog a while back here, and we’re still quite eagerly awaiting his abduction, so that we can blog about it. He is also in charge of the Communications section of BB, which would explain a lot about how talkative we are.