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,
In the desert the people awake…
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
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
Listen my Children
And you shall hear
Of the Bankers on Wall Street
Who trembled in fear.
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.