Politics and Poetry
Poetry, we have learned, is never separate from politics; its language is always bound up in the political even if readers aren't able to trace all of the cultural forces that contribute to a given poem. In Hofstra Special Collections, we were able to see explicit examples of the social engagements of poetry in books that were literally composed of the materials of war (such as "Lt. Shrapnel," pictured above and mentioned in other parts of this exhibit) and books whose material fragility imbues poetic content with a sense of the impermanence of all things.
Sara Parkel's poem, "Even the birds were on fire" is, as its catalog entry notes, "ound in paper with diaphanous fabric and mesh overlay," and it uses different typesets and fonts to display a poem and a timeline of events that took place on and around September 11, 2001. Its content is descriptive but inescapably political by virtue of the day it commemorates. It is dedicated to "the victims of violence" and we felt compelled to handle it very carefully.
We found additional evidence of poetry's political engagements in the many literary magazines that are part of the Weingrow Avant-Garde Collection in Hofstra Special Collections. As the finding aid notes "the Weingrow Avant-Garde Collection, contains books, journals, manuscripts, and related ephemera, which represent a variety of literary efforts to break with traditional forms and mores" (Finding Aid PDF). Among these holdings, we saw the Winter 1967 issue of (the soon to return!) Evergreen Review, a magazine founded in 1957 with the aim of providing a forum for "stories that aren’t being told or aren’t being heard." You can learn more about the history of Evergreen Review here.
The December Issue of Evergreen Review in 1967 was published at the end of a momentous year marked by social progress and unrest. The issue included long-standing features of the literary world in the poet and playwright Tennessee Wiliams, whose attempt to launch "new style" of theater after acheiving success in in the 1940s and 50s was met with mixed reviews.
It also included work by John Rechy, a Mexican-American writer whose novel Numbers had just come out, as well as features on Malcolm X and Le Roi Jones (Amiri Baraka after conversion) a poet and playwright and important figure in the Black Arts Movement.
The interview with Jones appeared alongside related articles on race relations and their intersections in art and political movements, including Jack Newfield's article "Chicago, Honkies, and Camus," and a reprint of a poster by Tomi Ungerer that suggested a battle for supremecy that was both cannibalistic and self-defeating.
The 1967 issue of Evergreen Review offers an interesting prelude of the tumultuous year to come and reminds us that poets and poetry were very much on the front lines of battle in various wars. Le Roi Jones was an Air Force pilot in the 50s, and he would go on to write about war and violence in a variety of forms--including his controversial poem "Somebody Blew Up America."
For more on the material in Hofstra's Avant-Garde collection, see [Jen?] and this exhibit created by Hofstra undergraduate students, Emily Ludrick and Nick Rizutti.