Simon Smith – Experiment & Liberate: Politics in Poetry

Political poetry sounds like a heavy topic for a Saturday afternoon with Save As Writers. I don’t have a particular viewpoint to share, I’m not interested in writing polemics, and nothing *bad* has happened to me personally make me angry enough to write political poetry.

But Simon Smith, poet, author and lecturer, and our tutor for ninety minutes on the topic of ‘Experiment & Liberate – Politics & Poetry’ believes that all poetry is political. It’s a form that is so often marginalised and ignored that to choose to communicate using poetry is a political act in itself. A way of giving a voice to those who would not otherwise have one, it can subtley critique power structures and established ways of thinking. The murder of Mayakovsky in Russia, the lawsuit against Stephen Collis by energy company Kinder Morgan and the recent arrest of a former Miss Turkey all indicate what most writers know – words are powerful, and the poem is a particularly resonant form as the spaces and things we leave out can be just as potent as what we leave in.

During the workshop we explored the Greek poet Sappho, a female voice using the feminine lyric to critique masculine war poetry; Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, a political statement about the 1819 Peterlee massacre in ballad form and Bernadette’s Mayer’s brilliant The Helens of Troy project where poems are made from cut up interviews with women named Helen from the US city of Troy, and created our own political poetry using word association and newspaper cuttings.

Perspectives shifted as to what could be considered political. Anything against the norm, breaking convention, has a slight air of conflict. Choosing to contribute towards a discourse is an act of defiance. Even the post personal and domestic of incidents occur in a social and political backdrop and within the context of certain rules and expectations. As Sonia Sanchez said ‘All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ’Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’ And so, our sunny Saturday turned into a slightly subversive one – and was all the more enjoyable for it.

Save As Writers is a lively writing group based in Canterbury. They run regular workshopping events, poetry evenings, and book launches. They meet once a month to critique members’ work and hold monthly literary evenings, which also feature an open mic.

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