Why do we still produce and value lyric poetry? In the multimedia age, how could something lacking raging bass sounds or exuberant three-dimensional images be seen as worthwhile? Perhaps it is the multidimensionality of poetry and its undeniable power over the public that keeps the short literary genre so high in people's hearts.
This unit will explore one way that poetry allows people to express their views regarding topics that affect everyone: politics. Political poetry illustrates what makes modern society so unique. Our society expects varying views and differing opinions to appear in every media outlet available. That is, of course, unless the country is in conflict. When war or similar conflicts that arouse the fears of citizens are on the horizon, opposition becomes unpatriotic if not altogether treasonous. At these times passions are so inflamed that people who believe that they are simply acting out their civil right to free speech and protest are condemned and often blacklisted.
Political poetry has a long-standing tradition in American and World history. As each dynasty and civilization developed and collapsed, poets with political opinions were memorializing the events. As early as the first settlers visited America, poetry became a clear medium for people to express their political views. Colonial poets used political poetry to convey their patriotic pride as well as their uneasiness concerning the impending war with England. Phyllis Wheatley wrote numerous poems about the glory of Revolutionary leaders like George Washington. Songs praising both Loyalist and Patriot parties were commonly heard. During the First World War Era, poets like Ernst Toller and Wilfred Owen were quite vocal in their views about war and its effects on generations of soldiers.
More recently, poets have begun to voice their beliefs far more outspokenly than their predecessors. During the 1950s and 1960s, poetsand songwriters toodid not simply speak their views to listeners and readers; rather, these poets screamed their pride in or disgust with America. In the 1950s the Beat generation created a public demand for poetry that spoke to those who were not afraid to go against the conservative majority. Poets like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and others pushed the envelope concerning political messages in poetry. Specifically, Ginsberg's "America" and "Howl" boasted a message and tone that had been previously unheard of by most Americans.
"All we are saying is give peace a chance," "War…what is it good for? Absolutely nothing," "There's battle lines being drawn/Nobody's right if everybody's wrong/Young people speaking their minds/Getting so much resistance from behind." You can't watch a movie about the 1960s without hearing these songs and others that voice similar responses to the Vietnam War. At a time when the world seemed overwhelmed with chaos, poetryeven in song formbecame an outlet of choice for those who needed to vent their frustrations and fears. Although this response was not created by the hippie generation, it sparked a new acceptability for these anti-establishment poems. Our more recent political unrest has prompted a new resurgence of the genre. The Gulf War Era has reintroduced political poetry through both poems and songs. The controversy concerning political statements by artists is no less intense today than it was over two hundred years ago. There remain our loyal patriots and our conscientious objectors. The irony is that the patriots and the objectors share a common goal: the safety of their brethren. In the modern age, the fine line between them can mean the difference between an artist's name on an award nominee list and on a black list.