Letter to the Editor

Odilia Galván Rodríguez responds to poetry czar

Dear Editors:

The critic Eleanor Wilner welcomes

a "change in the reception of poetry

concerned with current history,

"the old pejorative" and

"negatively loaded" term

"political poetry"

now replaced

by the honorific


of engagement."

The March 10 Tucson

Weekly featured the "poetry of resistance."

At the risk of alienating my last two friends among Tucson's poetry community, I'd like to consider several of the poems of "resistance" featured in the Weekly.

No matter what you call it,

"political poetry" presents inherent pitfalls:

among them, predictability and

sloganeering (ranging from formulaic

ethnic spiritualism to

self-dramatizing announcements

of solidarity).

Even the most accomplished poets

stumble when waxing political.

For example, Francisco X. Alarcon writes,

from afar

we can hear

your heartbeats

they are

the drums

of the earth.

Clichés like


as "drums/of the earth" and later in the poem,

"your faces/are radiant/as the Sun," are common to much of the

earnest poetry that presumes to

bears witness and

provokes social change.

Odilia Galvan Rodriquez, in "Border Inquest Blues," asks

which of my

careful word choices

make a difference

to scorched tongues

that can no longer

. . . .

cry out for help

in a desolate desert

The answer is none

Poetry does not provoke social change. It may cheer up those who desire social justice. It may "bear witness," but those who commit injustices aren't swayed by "careful word choices." Sloganeering is given free rein in these last lines:

in an illegal world

full of legalized criminals

who form tempests

to tease out fear, and who

year after year

think up new ways to hate

at the same time take

even a person's last breath

if it benefits their profits

Although some critics

welcome a renewed popularity of

what they call "poetry of resistance" or "poetry of engagement,"

let's not forget that

"by any other name, most political poetry

smells the same."

Odilia Galván Rodríguez

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