For a long time I’ve had a personal dream. That poetry becomes a regular feature of political commentary and analysis in major media. Not just in a few high-profile publications, not just when a new poet laureate is named or a famous poet reads her verse at a presidential inaugural. But on a regular basis on radio, TV, print publications, and well-trafficked media of all kinds.
I’ve come to a number of conclusions about how to succeed in making this happen. First, that it not be a one-person campaign, but a campaign whose success depends on tapping the energy and resources of many poets and poetry organizations. And second, that in approaching media, big and small, a pitch for poetry as a mechanism of political commentary should NOT be made on the basis of its artistic merit for such a role. Rather, that poets and their organizations are an interest group whose interest in seeing their own kind of work featured has to be taken seriously.
Almost all high-profile media today are commercial ventures, whether they admit to being so or not. They are therefore very much attuned to what their customers (their audience), and their financial supporters (advertisers or contributors) want to see.
There may not be lot of great poets. But there are a lot of poets generally. Poets, in other words, are often a big enough part of an audience for newspapers, for TV stations and their news shows, for radio and its news broadcasts, to get a hearing. If enough poets, especially in a smaller city or town with media that can’t afford to ignore any local group, bombarded this media for a place on it pages or airways, the response would likely be favorable.
It would likely be even more favorable if it were also made clear that while the media would have ultimate control over the poetry that appears in its pages or over its airways, it would expand that media’s audience by using poets who have their own personal local followings.
Are poets and poetry organizations able to influence media more directly via their economic clout? Sound like an odd notion? Maybe not.
A while back public television’s prime news hour, which posts some of its major contributors, noted a poetry organization on this list. Shortly thereafter interviews with leading poets started appearing on some of its regular broadcasts.
A coincidence? Could be. But in practical terms, any sort of actual or potential financial support from any source for any of today’s hard-pressed media tends to get the attention of people who control content.
Poetry has always been a magnificent vehicle of political commentary and analysis. We need such comment and analysis more than ever today to help illuminate and help cleanse the augean stable of present-day American politics. It’s not a time for passive poets. In the immortal word of Allen Ginsberg: Howl!
(For information about this author’s own book of political poems click on this link — This God-Awful Political Season (In Verse).