Poets write poetry for different reasons. Some write to make sense of trauma. Others want to mock their love life or pay homage to the one they love. Some people want to talk about monkeys or Satan or mythology or rock stars or bubbles. Everyone has their own personal motivation and inspiration.
You will find that some poets choose to use poetry as an in-your-face political statement, or as a method to bring a specific event or experience to the forefront. The tragedy of 9/11 and the election of Barack Obama are two pieces of history that have prompted plenty of writers to get their verse on.
I’m not a writer who’s all that politically engaged, and think of me what you will for that, but I write poetry in a very personal way… to say what I want to say about the life I’m living day to day, not to speak for other people or to make sense of giant happenings that I would never be able to accurately explain or fully fathom.
- Carolyn Forche found poetic fame with the collection The Country Between Us, mostly inspired by her work in El Salvador as a human rights advocate.
- Anna Akhmatova, born in the late 1800s, wrote about the chaos found in Russia during the first half of the twentieth century, featured in the translated version in the Poems of Akhmatova.
- Then there are anthologies like Holocaust Poetry, a collection I picked up at the Holocaust Museum. It includes heartbreaking poems from W. H. Auden, Primo Levi, Czeslaw Milosz, Elie Wiesel, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and more (59 poets total).
- Carolyn Forche also put together an anthology entitled Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness. It was called a landmark anthology, showcasing poems that bear witness to extremity – whether war, torture, exile, or repression – from the Armenian genocide to Tiananmen Square.
We’re a nation and a world at unrest. Peace has probably never seemed less likely. These generations of writers remind us that peace has always been hard to come by – but that doesn’t mean we can’t try, that doesn’t mean we can’t write about the good and the bad, that doesn’t mean we need to ignore the world around us.
What life-changing moment have you tried to write about, whether very personal or extremely public? What prompts you to pick up a pen?