Poetry Pharmacy

May 13, 2019

Dear Poetry Pharmacy,

The world needs as much help as we can give, so I try to get out and take a stand when I can. I would like to have a poem to read at a rally or protest meeting. I’m not looking for something particular to any party or cause, but something about the value of dissent and staying politically engaged.

It's so good to know there are always people like you who are committed to positive change and making a difference. You are in good company with many activist poets from throughout history, whose work has served as inspiration, wake-up calls and pleas. As Walt Whitman wrote, we should all “re-examine all (we) have been told” as an ongoing practice of engagement and truth-seeking.

Of course, the poem in and of itself cannot effect change, as former U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s piece “Poem by Poem” tells us. The “poem” you “offer” must also be activism: “made of action — you must / search for it run / outside and give your life to it.”

A piece that helps remind folks about the power of taking action by standing up — or sitting down — for what you believe is Nikki Giovanni’s prose poem “Rosa Parks,” which follows the activist history of the Pullman Porters from unionizing to aiding in desegregation to the Civil Rights movement.

“When Mrs. Parks brought that light of hers to expose the evil of the system, the sun came and rested on her shoulders bringing the heat and the light of truth,” Giovanni writes. So keep bringing the light!

And finally, especially if you are reading at a gathering that includes other writers and artists (as most do here in Waldo Country!), I’d read Haki R. Madhubuti’s “For the Consideration of Poets,” which is a call to writing more poems exactly like these, so that future protestors have plenty of options.

All of these poems can be read in full on the Poetry Foundation, poetryfoundation.org.

Thank you for finding space in your life for the remedy of poetry.

Full versions of all poems mentioned in this column may be easily found for no charge online through the site mentioned or by searching for the title and author’s name. Or consult your local librarian!

Behind the counter at the Poetry Pharmacy is Arielle Greenberg, Belfast Poet Laureate for 2019 and 2020. Arielle invites you to write in with your poetry needs to belfastpoetlaureate@gmail.com. She will fill prescriptions in this monthly column.

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