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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Political Issues

Poetry Northwest's is hot off the presses. The Recommended Reading list (suggested by contributors Pinsky, Bly, Bogen, Heffernan, Wrigley, and many noteworthy others) is worth the price of admission alone. Also, thanks to Peter Campion's insightful essay, I now know what's wrong with most political poetry (the poet miraculously forgets there's no standing outside the very thing she's reeling against; i.e, no one's innocent, least of all the one who's pointing the finger).

Beloit Poetry Journal's last issue devoted itself to the writers scheduled to read at Split This Rock, including Martin Espada and Alicia Ostricker. 

Reading the poems in both of these issues, I had that familiar flash of realization: this is the stuff that matters right now--not the orange azalea in my neighbor's yard, not that cute thing my kid did at the park today (well, not unless I somehow tie it to something larger, something half way around the world that's just now being blown up, deforested, disenfranchized,  etc.). 

Our country's top literary magazines are publishing political poetry in a ratio I haven't seen since the Vietnam War (okay, I was a child in 1972, but tell me if I'm wrong on this)--and with good reason; I bet they sift through hundreds of diatribes and rants each month (bad political poetry being just about the easiest type of bad poetry to write), but my sense is that they're also receiving an above-average amount of decent stuff, too. 

My favorite of the bunch is Kevin McFadden's "The Ides of Amer-I-Can," published in The Kenyon Review this past spring. 


Do you have it in you to write a poem about a political issue? If you do, first buy the mags mentioned above and study them. Then go back and take a good look at some of the poems the contributors at PNW recommend--Auden's "September 1, 1939," for instance.  You might want to read a newspaper, too--the New York Times' A Section is a good place to start. 

If and when you're ready to send a batch off, you're in luck: Tin House is currently reading for an upcoming political issue; the submission deadline is June 1.

2 comments:

jeannine said...

I love the unexpected political turn - like Denise Duhamel's 9/11 poem in Two and Two. In the latest issue of Rhino (nice review of BP, btw!) there was a poem across the page from mine on Lot's Wife - and as I read it, it made that turn as well - the wife as witness to the towers burning could have been clunky but it was just so graceful and moving.
I notice I've been writing about World War II and Hiroshima a lot for some reason. The political inevitably creeps into our work...as you said, how can it not?

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Actually have a politically oriented poem coming out in BPJ, plus one in the last Court Green and one in the last MARGIE. Trying to make political poems subtle is one of my favorite things to do... :-)