Thursday, May 28, 2009

Prop 8 and the Political Poem

The battle over gay marriage has once again taken an absurd turn. The California Supreme Court has upheld Prop 8 that banned same-sex marriage, but has declared that the 18,000 gay couples who got married between June and November of 2008 (when gay marriage was legal) will remain legally married. This back and forth bit is getting old. Now California has a mixture of gay couples who are married but no other gay people can. Does this make any sense? Of course not. Should I be surprised? No, it's business as usual here in America.  

This issue, like many others, gets me thinking about political poetry. My work has always had a political bend to it, whether I wanted it to or not. This is because we have made anything revolving around homosexuality political. If I mention something about being gay, gay sex, my relationship, etc. many will view this as being political and shoving my political agenda down unwilling throats.

A few years ago this bothered me a bit, because I, like many others, had a strange feeling about "political poetry" and wasn't sure I wanted my poetry to be classified in that way. We are in a culture that doesn't like politics and most don't like to think or know about political issues and if they see someone discussing or writing about these issues that person suddenly looks crazy and militant. I am both of these things, but don't like to be called them on a regular basis. There is also this notion that political poetry is just preaching an agenda and is not well-written poetry. This is of course not true. There are lots of badly written political poems but there are a lot of badly written poems on any topic. It seems people like political poetry of different time periods but are very uncomfortable with political poetry about current times. 

But I've gotten over these fears and in the last two years or so I have fully embraced my role as a writer of political poetry. Poetry can not just sit on the sidelines and keep writing about lighthouses and birds, while the world around us is crumbling. There are many topics worthy of poetry out there that are scary, raw and horrific and we can't ignore these. But I also believe the most effective political poetry has a personal side to it. Bring politics to the personal level. As a gay man I can't just ignore politics because they are determining my rights on a daily basis. Some days they are giving me more rights and the next they are taking those away. I want people to be aware, so I have devoted many poems to issues that I care about: the treatment of gay people in Iran, gay marriage, hate crimes, etc. But I bring these to a personal, everyday level.

Political poetry is not dead. It may not change the world but it might start a conversation. 

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