Poetry is often a power move—a piece of art made for resistance, for self-expression, and for challenging the status quo. From before the civil rights movement to some of the most relevant issues today, poetry has served as a tool for us to speak truth, expose inequalities, raise consciousness, and get people talking. And to give you a jumping-off point for your next social justice chat, we’ve made a list of six poems sure to spark conversation.
“What Kind of Times Are These” by Adrienne Rich
This rousing and rhythmic poem explores both politics and place with an ambiguous, haunting aura. Filled with visual imagery of trees, grass, mushrooms, and other natural elements, Rich juxtaposes the natural world with the harsh realities of political strife, war, and perhaps even industrialization. While these are huge themes to tackle, Rich leaves us with plenty to chew on with this poem.
“Deep Faults” by Loren Broaddus
From the collection, Joe DiMaggio Moves Like Liquid Light, the poem “Deep Faults,” simply depicts a man mowing the lawn. But all at once, it is so much more. The poem provides an analysis of the connections between greed, money, and power. The speaker’s Yankees’ cap becomes a symbol of the corruption of capitalism. The task of mowing the lawn becomes an act of resistance. “Deep Faults” encourages readers to analyze what even the smallest of actions may mean.
“America” by Allen Ginsberg
Written in 1956, “America” provides commentary on the political unrest in the United States post World War II. Despite its stream-of-consciousness appearance, “America” is a carefully constructed poem that smartly replicates spontaneity. Fast-paced and chock-full of cultural and political references, Ginsberg makes use of his usual irregular meter and style to create a feeling of chaos and uncertainty in the reader as he weaves together analyses of the world, the U.S., the lives of his fellow writers, and even himself.
“If You Are Over Staying Woke” by Morgan Parker
With short lines and repetitive yet powerful phrases, Parker slyly replicates the rinse-and-repeat attitude of many in the contemporary era. A home full of gadgets, entertainment, media, and medication makes it possible to dodge the news and avoid what’s real. Through this poem, Parker raises two important questions: What are we avoiding? And what crutches do we use in the process?
“ICE Agents Storm My Porch” by María Meléndez Kelson
Kelson unpacks what it means to be “othered” in the context of the modern world. While the title “ICE Agents Storm My Porch” provides readers with a direct connection to the modern issue of immigrants’ rights, the body of the poem forces readers to take a broader view—beyond the U.S. Calling on themes of Earth, nature, fruit, and perhaps outer-space, readers across perspectives can put themselves in the speakers’ shoes, feeling afraid, discombobulated, and trapped.
“For the Consideration of Poets” by Haki R. Madhubuti
This 2004 poem serves as a call for poets and artists alike. Madhubuti asks writers to revisit the poetry of resistance, defiance, and honesty. He takes issue with those who write without questioning, who service the affluent, and who participate in—what he calls—academic clown talk. Direct and unflinching, this poem forces readers and writers to analyze the purpose behind each poem, to think more deeply about its origins and its goals.