Angelolopez’s Weblog

November 3, 2011

Poets At the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Poets have always had a strong presence in social justice causes. In the 1800s, Lord Byron supported the Luddites and Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire and Percy Shelley was an advocate for nonviolence and social justice for the lower classes. W.S. Merton and Robinson Jeffers were strong advocates for environmental causes. Lanston Hughes, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Robert Hayden were strong supporters of the civil rights movement. Muriel Rukeyser, Grace Paley, and June Jordan participated in the antiwar movement, the civil rights movement and the feminist movement. With this history of social activism by poets, it comes as no surprise that many poets are participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests that are around the country.

A Facebook page called Poetry@OccupyWallStreet has been created to information to poets on ways in which they can participate in the Occupy Wall Street protests. Through this page, poets can organize readings, and post poems to be read. Every Friday night in the New York site, at around 9:30pm, poets of all walks of life and ages come in and read or perform their poetry. The Occupy Wall Street Library has just published an Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology. Right now the anthology is available only at the Occupy Wall Street Library, but there are plans to have it available online. Famous poets like Anne Waldman, Adrienne Rich, and Michael McClure have contributed their poetry, as well as regular people and even children.

The Everyday Citizen website has two wonderful poets who regularly blog here, Diane Wahto and Melissa Tuckey. I just found out from reading a blog in the Kansas Free Press blogsite that Diane Wahto will be one of 150 Kansas poets whose work will be published in a poetry collection called Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, published by Woodley Press. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the poet laureate of Kansas, chose the 150 poems that are to be published in the collection, which makes the inclusion in this book a great honor. The poets will begin a twenty-city reading tour throughout Kansas beginning in November.

Melissa Tuckey is the assistant festival director for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival which celebrates the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change. In March of 2012, the Split This Rock Poetry Festival will take place in Washington, DC, for four days and more than 40 events—readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programs, open mics, and activism. The 2012 Festival will be dedicated to the life and work of June Jordan.

Below are poems from favorite poets who deal with social justice issues.

Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

I Gave Away That Kid

By Grace Paley

I gave away that kidlike he was an old button
Here old button get off of me
I don’t need you anymore
go on get out of here
get into the army
sew yourself onto the colonel’s shirt
or the captain’s fly jackass
don’t you have any sense
don’t you read the papers
why are you leaving now?

That kid walked out of here like he was the cat’s pyjamas
what are you weaking p j’s for you damn fool?
why are you crying you couldn’t
get another job anywhere anyways
go march to the army’s drummer
be a man like all your dead uncles
then think of something else to do

Lost him, sorry about that the president said
he was a good boy
never see one like him again
Why don’t you repeat that your honor
why don’t you sizzle up the meaning
of that sentence for your breakfast
why don’t you stick him in a prayer
and count to ten before my wife gets you.

That boy is a puddle in Beirut the paper says
scraped up for singing in a church
too bad too bad is a terrible tune
it’s no song at all how come you sing it?

I gave away that kidlike he was an old button
Here old button get off ame
I don’t need you anymore
go on get out of here
get into the army
sew yourself onto the colonel’s shirt
or the captain’s fly jackass
don’t you have any sense
don’t you read the papers
why are you leaving now?

What Have You Brought Home From The Wars?

By Muriel Rukeyser

What have you brought
home from the wars, father?

Scars.
We fought far overseas; we knew
the victory must
be at home.
But here I see
Only a trial by time
of those
who know.
The public men all shout: Come bomb,
come burn
our hate.
I do not
want it shot;
I want it solved.
This is the word
the dead men said.
They said peace.
I saw in the hot light
of our century
each face killed.

What Do We See?

By Muriel Rukeyser

When they’re decent about women, they’re frightful about children,
When they’re decent about children, they’re rotten about artists,
When they’re decent about artists, they’re vicious about whores,
What do we see? What do we not see?

When they’re kind to whores, they’re death on communists,
When they respect communists, they’re foul to bastards,
When they’re human to bastards, they mock at hysterectomy-
What do we see? What do we not see?

When they’re decent about surgery, they bomb the Vietnamese,
When they’re decent to Vietnamese, they’re frightful to police,
When they’re human to police, they rough up lesbians,
What do we see? What do we not see?

When they’re decent to old women, they kick homosexuals,
When they’re good to homosexuals, they can’t stand drug people,
When they’re calm about drug people, they hate all Germans,
What do we see? What do we not see?

Cadenza for the reader

When they’re decent to Jews, they dread the blacks,
When they know blacks, there’s always something : roaches
And the future and children and all potential. Can’t stand themselves
Will we never see? Will we ever know?

I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies

By June Jordan

Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976

1
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
cart
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
accelerating
rhythms
But
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
Regularly
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:

fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or
condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

2
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
retaliation?
Shall we pick a number?
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?

I must become a menace to my enemies.

3
And if I
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
completely
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries

And if I
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
out.

I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.

YOUTUBE VIDEOS OF POETRY ASSEMBLIES IN NEW YORK




A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF A POETRY READING IN OCCUPY DENVER

A VIDEO OF A POETRY READING IN OCCUPY MINNESOTA

A VIDEO OF A POETRY READING IN OCCUPY KANSAS CITY

A VIDEO OF A VISUAL POETRY READING FROM OCCUPY INDIANA

A POEM BY MARK LIPMAN FOR OCCUPY LA

A VIDEO OF STEPHAN SAID CHANTING AN EGYPTIAN FREEDOM SONG FOR OCCUPY WALL STREET

A VIDEO OF AN OPEN MIC NIGHT AT OCCUPY SAN FRANCISCO

A VIDEO OF A POETRY READING IN OCCUPY LOS ANGELES

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