Tag Archives: political poetry

Review: Let the Body Beg by Tara Shea Burke

Disclaimer: I know the poet.

On to the important bit:

I’m always hungry. My dreams show blood

– from “Imagined Farms”

These poems, as the title of the collection telegraphs, are about hunger. Real, raw, human hunger felt deep in the chest and body. This is not the hunger of “oh, I’m a little late for lunch,” or “where’s the waiter with that food.” This is the hunger of first heartbreak, of a fist nailing the solar plexus sweet like a perfect tennis swing. This is the hunger of loneliness and desire, hunger that is hard to hear and beautiful to hold.

In the same poem quoted above, Burke writes, “The dreams are open wounds, talking / heads.” This is a protest poem, and though it protests about the self, it protests against ourselves as a nation as well. The factory farms and the endless wars in counterpoint to each other: in profit through blood. And, still, the love and the hunger. This is also, at it’s heart, a love poem. It’s about a lover who is

…a cool

clean cucumber vine…

and I have let her wrap vines around my hungry

heart

and a yearning to both grow and keep safe the lover. You’ll have to read the poem to get more, though.

This is a short volume, 25 pages and 16 poems, but each and every entry pulls it’s weighty hunger into the forefront. It is difficult to select just a few examples.

“The Hungry Girls of America” is dense with metaphor and “starving, then eating, then starving, then eating,” and succeeds by being about more than an individual, more than complaint, by being plain-spoken and forceful and honest. This might be the anthem for every one of us who feels like they can’t get ahead.

“The Harness” has long been one of my favorite poems by Burke. It has evolved in my acquaintance, and here it presents a tenderness and wholeness in a relationship. That ever-present hunger is softened here, attenuated. 

I don’t want to give away too many of these poems. As a whole, you should know that this is a forceful collection that is very clearly feminist and queer in its sensibilities. It connects though. As a reader, you will be satisfied with this collection, but it will leave you feeling a hunger. For more of Burke’s poetry, for human connection, and for awareness to the world around you. Be open to that hunger.

You can get a copy at ELJ Publications: http://eljpublications.com/available-titles/let-the-body-beg/

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June Jordan and the Political

Every poet claims that poetry is political – or at least that the act of writing poetry is a political act – no matter what the poem’s contents are. Jane Hirschfield, Richard Hugo, David Orr, Susan Stewart, and Stephen Dunn are just a few of the poets investigated this semester who wrote or intimated this idea. The statement that poetry is political requires a certain understanding of the “political,” meaning an exercise and projection of the voice in the face of the vast ease of being silent. This idea, that saying what needs to be said – whether about a white spider on a sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace, or about the unequal gender treatment in our current society – is a political act opens more than just poetry to political statement, but all fields of art. As a result, the question of which writing is political, and which is not, becomes very important. To hazard one possible boundary, writing which does not offer some access to Truth, or which deliberately obscures Truth (or truth), falls on the far side of the political; these kinds of writing result in either apathetic consumerism, or worse, outright propaganda. Much popular music falls into these categories. The reader (that’s you) may object that even apathetic consumerism or outright propaganda fall somewhere on the political spectrum, and the author (me) may agree. In that case, let us use “political” – in terms of writing and poetry at least – for the positive – seeking awareness and Truth – end of the spectrum, while the previous terms (apathetic and propagandist) can apply to the other, obstructive end. Continue reading

The Pitfalls of Outright Political Poetry

This post is inspired by an essay I wrote about June Jordan’s Kissing God Goodbye, in which I address some of these issues by looking at how she manages the problems. That essay will soon appear here (as soon as it’s turned in), but in the meantime, and as a way to clarify my own thinking on the subject, I offer the following thoughts on pitfalls facing political poetry.

“Political” requires some definition, for which I’ll steal my own introductory paragraph:

Every poet claims that poetry is political – or at least that the act of writing poetry is a political act – no matter what the poem’s contents are. Jane Hirschfield, Richard Hugo, David Orr, Susan Stewart, and Stephen Dunn are just a few of the poets investigated this semester who wrote or intimated this idea. The statement that poetry is political requires a certain understanding of the “political,” meaning an exercise and projection of the voice in the face of the vast ease of being silent. This idea, that saying what needs to be said – whether about a white spider on a sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace, or about the unequal gender treatment in our current society – is a political act opens more than just poetry to political statement, but all fields of art. As a result, the question of which writing is political, and which is not, becomes very important. To hazard one possible boundary, writing which does not offer some access to Truth, or which deliberately obscures Truth (or truth), falls on the far side of the political; these kinds of writing result in either apathetic consumerism, or worse, outright propaganda. Much popular music falls into these categories. The reader (that’s you) may object that even apathetic consumerism or outright propaganda fall somewhere on the political spectrum, and the author (me) may agree. In that case, let us use “political” – in terms of writing and poetry at least – for the positive – seeking awareness and Truth – end of the spectrum, while the previous terms (apathetic and propagandist) can apply to the other, obstructive end.

Continue reading