If I mention poetry, your mind probably goes to Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and Maya Angelou. You probably think of poetry as love sonnets or lengthy descriptions of nature or metaphor-loaded, heartfelt confessions.
But have you ever thought of poetry as a form of activism?
Poetry, like all writing forms, uses words to communicate ideas. The difference between poetry and other literature, however, is that poetry is a communication of these ideas in which the grammatical rules that reign over the English language can be bent or even completely ignored, lending the poet more freedom in conveying a concept…or in simpler terms, you don’t need to use proper grammar so you can express yourself more freely in poetry.
That’s all fine and good, but I’m not here to give you a lecture on the nature of poetry. I’m here to tell you what poetry has evolved into because of this quality.
Now, more than ever, people are using poetry, specifically slam poetry or spoken word, to relay their own ideas on topics up for debate in society. The freedom that a poet has in this art form allows for them to tap into their audience’s emotions while conveying a message or idea. Poetry has become its own form of activism – an entity I like to call “Poetic Activism.”
Poetic activism came across my radar after I noticed a bunch of my friends shared a particular link on Facebook. When I clicked on the link, there was a video of three young women performing a poem they had written. In the performance, they not only impressed the audience with the beauty of their words, but also imparted listeners with their stances on contemporary issues.
They talked about issues facing their generation like racism, sexism, homophobia, gun control laws, political apathy, and other hot-topic items. They discussed how change is necessary yet so many barriers to change exist.
The three have their own agenda for change, though. They’re part of Get Lit, an organization created to promote literary interest and performance amongst teens. They love bringing modern issues to light through performance poetry and want to provide other teenagers with the opportunity to do the same. Get Lit’s main goal is to let the unheard voices of America’s youth be brought to the forefront. They hope to do this by leveling the grounds between the rich and the poor, establishing performance poetry as a medium in which all voices are equal.
In a way, the performed poem (which you can view here) was more powerful than a speaker would be if he/she were relaying these same ideas. Words, by nature, are quite powerful. Using words in a fluid, emotional, poetic manner only increases their power.
Poems (like the one performed) harbor a tremendous capacity for inspiring change. While words alone won’t alter the world, an influx of ideas and opinions can derail an existing system, lessening apathy towards issues and creating an impetus for significant change. Poetry has had and continues to have an impact on the way we think as humans. Therefore, using poetry as a platform for awareness of issues and a call for change is a brilliant way to inspire the transformation this country needs.
Poetic activism has a place in the activist world. And it’s an important one.
Any thoughts, questions, or comments on using poetry as inspiration for change? Leave them in the comment section below!