Poetry and Politics

by krstaten

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

–Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

I’m sorry if this seems rushed; I have a lot of thoughts right now that I’m not entirely sure how to articulate. With the recent election of a candidate who is decidedly anti-immigration in every sense, this poem has been on my mind a lot the last couple days.

There’s a lot I can say here about Donald Trump–the long and short of it being that I’m not pleased with the way he has treated anyone he can label as “other” (be they female, Muslim, Mexican, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ+, POC, etc.). I could write a pages-long essay on that here, but that’s not really what this blog is for and I have ranted enough about that elsewhere. The bottom line of this point is that I don’t appreciate this about Trump: the angry rhetoric he’s ridden like a wave to the Presidency, trying to restrict what it means to be an American.

This blog is not about politics, or about Donald Trump, or even about his angry rhetoric, though those are all valid things to discuss. This blog is about literature. This blog is about poetry. This blog is about the delicate arrangement of words and the way they speak to us, bridging the gaps between thought and expression, between experience and understanding, and between people.

The poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty is, to me, what America is. It’s what I was taught made this country from a very young age. That is one of the many things art, and especially poetry, does: It reaches across boundaries to remind us of our purpose and of what our existence means when you boil us down to our core.

Poetry digs deep beneath our skin. Right now, America’s skin seems to be Donald Trump–that’s the epidermis that everyone else can see, stretching over our mass so that the world can think it sees our face. Right now that skin is, well, very white. But underneath that, the roots of what America stands for are reflected in this poem. We are not a homogeny. We were never meant to be.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free […] Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me.”

I thought about what the place of art is in our current political climate, and the more I think about it, the more the answer is everywhere. It’s in the base of the Statue of Liberty, boldly contradicting all the anti-immigrant rhetoric we’ve heard this political season. And I think the best way we can combat the fear many of us are feeling now is with art, and poetry, and literature.

It won’t fix it. We can’t make policy with art. But we can make our voices heard, and we can make understanding, and we can make magic. I’m grateful that poetry has a rich place in our history to remind us who we are, and that we can continue to make art to remind the rest of the world as well.