In some ways, we must necessarily reach beyond aesthetics. But this is not to say that the page is not a tool, that the form and use of artistic techniques would undermine rather than support. One might even say that in poetry of politics is where these tools become all the more important. Perhaps a message could be conveyed more effectively through aesthetic manipulation on the page or the use of the spoken word than through a more direct discourse. ‘Tool’ becomes a word that can apply to any way that a writer chooses to use their voice.
But then, does the question of how to be a poet, or more specifically of how to be a poet of social justice, intone community? It seems difficult to fight for justice in a vacuum. This then is where we can find on aspect of poetry as social justice. It presents an opportunity for one to expose their own reality and fight for something that they may have ‘ownership’ of in some sense, but it also allows a space for support. Support through artistic expression. Solidarity is something like recognition. But where does recognition fit into a fight for justice? It cannot be synonymous with definition; it should not be synonymous with any kind of condescending patronage. It should be inclusionary.
So first, what is a poet? And second, how can you define poetry as political? In many ways, the answer for both of these questions is that there isn’t one. In a conversation I had recently with Baltimore-based artist Olu Butterfly Woods, she remarked that she didn’t quite consider herself a poet. In a way, this was reassuring to hear as one who aspires to ‘be a poet’. There is something to be said for artistic expression that defies classification but is nevertheless supported by intention.