The Feminist in Me Says The Personal is Political

I was thinking about how we were talking about politics and poetry the other day, how we sometimes get carried away in the social justice issues that rise out of poems in workshop. I’ve realized that this is what keeps poetry alive, if a poem doesn’t raise any issues that readers are passionate about or that are pertinent to their lives, they wouldn’t continue to be read. Every poem is political.

In my Leslie Marmon Silko class, we often chuckle about Silko’s intentions when writing a book. After finishing her nearly 800 page epic in 1999 that took her 10 years to write, Silko said she wanted to write a leisurely story about a girl and gardens, no politics involved. This however, turned into a nearly 500 page book centered around the hybridization and commodification of flowers. Silko realized that gardens were very political. One can just look around this campus and see how everything is planted for a (capitalist) purpose. The paths on this campus aren’t the quickest, straightest shot ways to get places, and you can often see footpaths students make over grass, mulch, and even flowers.

Anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the personal is always going to be political. And if the writer can’t find the politics in it, some reader out there is going to. Poetry does not exist in a vessel, we’re always going to treat poetry as both social commentary and a historical piece of the time it was written. Putting poetry into context, especially when so many poems have a myriad of interpretations, is going to end up with readers seeing the politics in them, regardless of if that was intended by the writer or not.

4 Replies to “The Feminist in Me Says The Personal is Political”

  1. I think your last point here is something we all need to remember; even if we intend it or not, people are going to read into our work & find things we may not have intended to be there. Throughout workshop, there have been several moments where one person has said “I really read this as this…” & at the end of workshop the poet mentioned that the intended reading was something completely different. On one hand, this is something I absolutely love about poetry; it can mean different things to different people, and readings can change from person to person. It’s flexible in the way that a work of prose may not be. But we also have to be super aware of what we’re saying sometimes. I remember in an informal workshop I did outside of this class, a few of us were working on a piece & somebody pointed out that it seemed very anti-woman. The writer’s eyes got big; they never intended it to be, but once it was pointed out as a potential reading they were shocked at what the poem could be saying. I think it’s good to step back from pieces & think about how they could be read. Not only because our works will stand as a historical marker, as you pointed out, but because we may say things that we don’t want to.

  2. Hey Codie! I believe your comment is very true (though sometimes the degree to which poetry /art is political can vary throughout a person’s life (politics can become necessary or something to turn away from over a period of time)), and I like that we’re talking about political writing. It makes for good, focused work too, if it’s motivated by an ethics and a point to make.

    Something on politics and art that really affected me when I saw it:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PH96tuRA3L0

    Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, given during the Iraq war–check it out.

  3. After reading this post and it’s following comments, I started to think about artistic intent. How much do we let the artist’s intent affect our understanding and enjoyment of a piece (whether it be a poem, a painting, a piece of music, etc.)? For instance, a very famous case of this is Wagner’s symphonies. His compositions were composed for the support of antisemitism and were supported by Hitler and provided as the soundtrack for Nazi culture. However, upon listening to Wagner’s work anyone can appreciate the beauty of his grand orchestrations.

    So how much can we let this affect our listening? In the nature of poetry, how much can we let the artist’s intent affect our understanding? As Sarah was saying, often times an author may not mean to have a certain message in their work, yet it may still come across to readers. How much responsibility do we give authors? This can get particularly sticky with political/controversial/emotional topics.

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