The optimism of a new year is almost too sweet to ignore.
The next few hundred days are full of possibilities, ranging from the positive and uplifting to the more sinister and grotesque. It is perhaps a fair assumption to say that 2018 brought on much pain, confusion, and rage, no matter which side of the country or political aisle you sit on. Each day, we are inundated with opinion pieces, toxic tweets, and a plethora of other media that begs us to stop, look, and listen.
Media of all shades is important to the society in which we participate. But the ways in which we participate are ripe for inspection. It is my firm belief that poetry can serve many functions. All at once, it can act as a balm for sour times and a way to project your heart’s truest concerns into a world that often seems to be on fire.
Now is the perfect time to take all that is felt, feared, and forecasted and turn it into poetry.
Certainly, there are memories from recent historical moments you think of every day. Perhaps you still think of how the evergreen trees swayed at Volunteer Park as you stood frozen at a rally? Or how you once lay in bed crying while watching the news of another school shooting? Or maybe you’ve even felt so numb you can’t fathom putting words to anything.
In my upcoming workshop, Poetry as Activism, we will learn from those who have grasped their generation’s zeitgeist with both hands. We will learn to do it ourselves. Below are a few ways to begin building your own poetic time capsule so the future may learn from your words and experiences.
1. Pay attention to your attention
Take note of how you consume news, articles, videos, and social media. How does that delivery of information make it into your thoughts? How do you share this information? Reference these very specific media when you write.
2. Go deep on one story
It can be an overwhelming task to sum up an entire year or political movement. Try choosing one story or event that still pulls on your heart and attention. Think of the main characters, the supporting characters, and the forces at work. Try seeing the event from their perspective, or even from the perspective of someone opposed to the subject.
3. Write it when you feel it
Take your emotions to the blank page when you’ve had enough injustice, frustration, and confusion with the world. Write it all down, even if it flows out of your fingertips with an unrecognizable zeal. The greatest joy of writing through rage is to revisit the words later so you can edit them into exactly how you feel.
4. Dream of the future
Many social and political movements are working toward a specific mountaintop with varying outcomes. The reason millions of people take to the streets is often with a similar goal in mind. Ask yourself what that mountaintop looks like for you. Dream big. Don’t be restrained to logic. Invite a little joy into your dreaming. Write down three ways in which you would know you reached the mountaintop. Use this in your writing.
There are millions of ways to approach a complex time such as this one. However, poets have been doing this since time immemorial. Using poetry as a means to cope with and confront our world is perhaps the most noble use of putting pen to paper—or fingers to keys. Using poetry as a form of activism can serve as yet another tool in your toolbox for making the world a better place. Or at least making the world take notice—so that it may join the fight.
Demi Wetzel is originally from Evansville, Indiana, where she graduated from the University of Southern Indiana. Her work can be found in a variety of poetry publications and her chapbook—Life of the Party—was shortlisted for the 2017 Floating Bridge Press Competition. She now lives in Seattle where she works as a freelance writer and copywriter.