What is Poetry 2- Protest/Social criticism

The controversial author Salman Rushdie once said, ‘‘A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.’’

With reference to the previous post, the first motive of the poet should be to inspire through natural or motivational means. However, in times of political upheaval or social injustices, the poet must take his or her work to a higher level, asking tough questions and creating awareness on social problems such as poverty and racism, criticizes political structures which have served those in power instead of the people, or offers up a written form of dissent against oppressive regimes. It is poetry created to elicit outrage and action from the public.

Thus begins our second discussion, poetry of protest and social criticism. It can be called inspirational poetry, but there are some profound differences between the prose of the last post and this one. For one thing, while the former seeks to transmit feel good emotions and spur us personally on, the latter does the opposite by opening up our eyes to the hurting world around us and initiating a mission within us to change sectors of society before ourselves.

Firstly, there is poetry of protest. This month of January comes two years on from the events of the Arab Spring which began in December of 2010 with Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia igniting himself in protest over police corruption and ill-treatment, and in doing so immolated the rest of the Middle-East in flames during the following months. Long-ruling regimes were toppled and governments reformed from Morocco to Oman.

In this dangerous and ominous atmosphere of change where leaders clung onto power like Jackals to a wounded, bloodied carcass, poets found their voice and wrote revolutionary verses on paper, on walls, any place where the message of hope and defiance could be communicated. They bravely wrote out the soul of the nation and its people from within and in exile abroad.

Hear the story of this exiled protest poet from Syria on the Al-Jazeera program Artscape: Poets of Protest:


This following poem is something I composed at the hight of the Arab spring, before this blog began. It’s an early piece that has been modified, so enjoy:

Spring comes to the Middle-East


A time of a new plants, new life,

new nations.

In the desert the people awake…

and speak.

The thrones of tyrants and big men

overthrown by the will of the masses.

In the parched desert, the blossoming of defections

begin, dry weeds of military and security are tied and

cut off;

Glory to the martyrs! We have redeemed you by

tipping the scales of power!


A time of new plants, new life, new nations.


Secondly, there is poetry of social criticism. Social criticism can be defined as looking at social structures which are deemed as flawed and creating solutions by certain measures, reforms or even revolution. These flawed structures can be found anywhere, from governance to business and may slow down or cease the growth of societies.

In the fall of 2011, in the midst of the late 2000’s financial crisis, there was a major movement of Social criticism that was partly inspired by the Arab Spring. This movement began in the United States and soon spread throughout the world. It was called the Occupy Movement.

The movement mainly protested against social and economic inequality and took the form of either gatherings of thousands of people in financial districts, calling themselves the ‘‘99%’’ and criticizing big corporations and financial systems( seen as having caused the Great Recession) as greedy and unequal or violent demonstrations such as in Italy.

It was a movement that inspired people. Ordinary protesters camping in the parks and demanding that the power of financial giants be reigned in began not just to express their feelings through pickets and shouted slogans, but also through written conversation across the social media-sphere and, eventually, with song and poetry.

Social criticism can at times be a much easier form of poetry with which to show your discontent then with protest poetry because for one thing you can focus on addressing one problem with however much force is needed, and another is that it might not be as dangerous.

In the end, the times and reasons for the protest will often determine what the poet composes. Thereafter, it’s their choice whether to have a restrained or radical response.

I leave with this piece from the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology compiled by Steve Boyer and Filip Marinovich and the people of the OWS:

Listen My Children

By, Stuart

Listen my Children

And you shall hear

Of the Bankers on Wall Street

Who trembled in fear.

The O.W.S.

They were growing in number

And awakened the Crooks

From a greed-drunken slumber.

“What you’ve done is a crime!”

The Protesters growled

But the Bankers stood firm

As the winter winds howled.

“We’re not the bad guys!”

“We’re Rich and you need us!”

“And Washington said,

They won’t let You defeat us!’ ”.

But the People were heard

From the East to the West

It was pure Indignation

For the Right and the Left.

Then the Sickle of Justice

Cut wheat from the chaff

As the Hammer of Vengeance

Broke the Bull from the Calf.

And the Liars and Cheats

Were no more in the Land

After Judgment was served

With a most Heavy Hand.

So the People on Wall Street

They built a new Nation

That served only Peace

And ended Starvation.

The Children still sing

Of the Brave souls who led

The 300 million strong

From the once Living-Dead.

Source: http://peopleslibrary.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/occupypoems1.pdf

What is Poetry 1- Inspiration

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit.
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns.
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out:
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt.
And you never can tell how close you are.
It may be near when it seems so far:
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

This poem is titled ‘‘Don’t Quit’’ by an unknown author and will provide an introduction to the first part of the discussion, ‘‘What is Poetry’’: to inspire

The foremost aim of poetry is, I feel, to inspire and instil a sense of hope in people who have lost it. It can offer a rehabilitation that can be as, or even more effective than a psychiatrist’s chair. Using the right lines of motivation and assurance, a reader may be inspired to fulfill a lost dream, reignite a lost passion or even avert themselves from suicide.

A verse doesn’t have to be as simple as the example above, however. It can offer a different type of inspiration that derives from natural more than material themes, the aim of which is expressed in a late 18th century artistic movement called Romanticism.

The Romantics believed in showing beauty of the natural world, rebelled against the rationality and intellectuality of the Enlightenment, explored the human condition and personal emotions and freed themselves from the rigid structures classicism and neoclassicism.

What makes Romantic poetry so inspirational is the way it uses natural themes that appear to jump from the canvas the lines and invokes, as William Wordsworth states in the preface to Lyrical Ballads, ‘…Spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.’ Wordsworth, along with Lord Byron, Coleridge, Pushkin, Browning, Emerson and others defined this era with prose that ignited creative imagination and opened the door to exploring our inner selves with its whole myriad of emotions and attitudes.

Away from its revolutionary and political symbolism, Romantic poetry about the beauty of nature has the power to sooth the soul with majestic, subtle images of a natural Earth that is alive. At its best, Romanticism can have almost a meditative effect on readers, removing them from the stresses and chaos of the world. It can rejuvenate and revive those that read it and make them want to start afresh.

Here is an example of Romantic poetry by John Keats. If possible, try to find a quiet space(preferably a park) and read it aloud:

                                    To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

What is poetry?

Happy New Year.


At the start of 2013, I would like to pose the question, ‘‘What is poetry?’’

It is safe to assume that poetry is the simplest form of literary prose, but what is it? What does it mean? Is it merely a creative vehicle with which we can express our emotions, beliefs and desires? Or is it a more powerful tool that can influence change in our society?


The next three posts will examine the nature of poetry through these different aspects:

  1. Inspiration( we’ll namely look at romanticism)
  2. Protest/social criticism (Drawing from the Arab spring and other movements)
  3. Spiritually uplifting (Predominantly looking at the Book of Psalms in the bible)
  4. Creative expression(Poetry in its most maverick forms)


While these topics may not give a complete answer to the question, I feel it nevertheless invites conversation into why poetry is important and relevant in the world today.


I would like to ask readers the question, ‘‘What does poetry mean to you?”


I leave you with the poem ‘‘Of poetry’’ by Australian poet Peter Boyle


Of Poetry


Great poems are often extraordinarily simple.

They carry their openness

with both hands.

If there is a metaphor lounging in the doorway

they step briskly past.

The boom of generals

and presidents with their rhetoric manuals

will go on sowing the wind.


The great poems are distrustful of speech.


like someone very old

who has only a few hours left of human time,

they gaze into the faces around them –

one by one

they kiss love into our mouths.


© Peter Boyle from The Transformation Boat (River Road Press, 2008) http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=11264