The Blog of John Hewitt

Write a poem about something trending – 31p31d

This is what was trending on my Facebook page today.

This is what was trending on my Facebook page today. In a week it will be a historical document.

Day 3 of 31 poems 31 days

The outside world

The first couple days of our poetry project have focused on the personal. Poetry can be therapeutic. It can help you to explore personal issues and to capture the events of your life. If all poets stuck to writing about themselves, however, the world of poetry would be far too narrow. For every poet who writes about the personal, there is another poet writing about the external world.

Poetry that is focused on issues, causes and events can be very powerful. This type of poetry can inform people, change people’s views or even spur people to action. Poetry has, for all of history, been a tool for social change and the expression of political and philosophical ideas. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, for example, was an introduction it a sub-culture that most of America knew nothing about. Pablo Neruda, a passionate Chilean poet and communist politician, once read his poetry to a live audience of over 100,000 people, the largest known crowd to ever assemble to hear a poetry reading.

Inside out

Poetry can be issue-oriented and still be personal. Political movements take place at every level. Social issues such as homelessness, health care, immigration, discrimination, addiction, physical abuse and mental illness are felt most strongly by the people who experience them first hand. The world is an imperfect place and humans are the living embodiment of all those imperfections.

A voice in the wilderness

You can’t solve the problems of the world in a single poem. There is only so much that can be accomplished with poetry, and solving the world’s problems is pretty tall order. Your goal in writing about an issue is self expression more than change. You want your poem to influence, not dominate.

But is it art?

Another key to writing issue-oriented poetry is to remember that the poem should not take back seat to the issue it addresses. Make every line interesting and memorable to the reader. Make your images sharp and specific. Keep your reader interested until the end. Don’t work too hard at drawing conclusions and giving instructions or you will risk leaving the reader feeling manipulated, which is a quick and easy way to lose your audience.

Not everyone will love you

One final thing to remember is that when you take a stand, you can expect dissent. Some people are easily offended and angered. Some people are so locked into their own mindset that they will lash out at anything that disputes their view. There may even be some people out there who will intelligently and calmly demonstrate that you are wrong. Worse yet, you may find that the people who take your side are more offensive than the people who disagree with you. Taking a stand means taking a risk. There’s no way around that.

Today’s assignment

It doesn’t always pay to follow the crowd, but lets give it a try today. If you have FaceBook or Twitter, you are probably familiar with the trending feature, a quick list of items people are talking about (or some sponsor is trying to get people to talk about). Pick a trending story and write about it, or just write about trends in general.