Guerilla poetics, oh my!

Sometimes you talk, talk, talk, or you write, write, write and you get nowhere, you make none of the changes you’re seeking to instigate. At Princeton, Matthea Harvey gave an inspiring talk about the need for guerilla poets to take to the streets, speaking out on social issues. In response, I sent a protest poem to Seamus Heaney and Galway Kinnell’s hotel rooms because each declined to sign books even though Paul Muldoon flogged attendees to buy books to support the poets in attendance. (Quite a number of other poets were happy to sign.) You may think me insolent, but the act of writing and delivering a poem protesting the two famous poets’ refusals was the beginning of my willingness to send poetry out into the world where standard language failed. Since then, I’ve had positive results a number of times when I mailed poetry to those in official capacities. Some examples:

  1. A poem of advocacy to the superintendent of the school district because he didn’t seem to understand how some students’ family lives impede their progress in school. (The superintendent created a policy allowing students partial credit shortly afterward; I like to take partial credit for that.)
  2. A poem requesting empathy to the hearings officer for a high school student about to be permanently expelled. (The officer told me that he reconsidered his decision based on the poem, and reduced the student’s expulsion to one semester.)
  3. Poems about the barriers kids face to the Oregon House Education Committee. (Two legislators responded with letters committing to address the issues raised in the poems.)
  4. Embedded in a court report under the section “Issues for the Court’s Consideration” I quoted on behalf of a child needing to return home, “I watch the geese in their long line flying north, and dream of clearing my name… The hours fly past, no one can call them back and look, it’s dusk already.” ~ ~Sugawara no Michizane, trs. by Robert Borgen (The Court made a finding for the child to return home.)

When standard writing fails, try a poem. Find a poet you admire and quote them in your business letter. Send one of your own poems even if it’s not great, if it conveys what’s at stake. The metaphoric and figurative language of poetry may cause the gates that slam shut in the brain to stay open a millisecond longer, long enough for the message to sink in. What do you have to lose?

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