Rebels with a cause: powerful poetry to inspire changeJanuary 28, 2021
From Audre Lorde to Amanda Gorman, poetry has long provided a potent way for people to speak up and bring about progress
The ecstatic response to Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”, the poem she wrote for Joe Biden’s inauguration last week, was a potent reminder of the power of poetry to inspire change – within individuals, and then outwards, into communities and societies. Prose only gets us so far, before souls need to be stirred to make things better, ignite revolutions: which writer doesn’t hanker to be “the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over”, as Walt Whitman put it in “To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire”? Any change starts with resilience, and the grit and knowledge that many things can be borne. The Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli shows us this: “I fall and fall again, stumble and fall, get up / then fall again, relapses are / my speciality.” And while she claims that My Poems Won’t Change the World they show us that you have to keep going, to stay in the game; and maybe you can even find joy as you do so.
Resilience by itself doesn’t change a thing; what’s needed next is defiance, to communicate that you, your cause, your belief won’t be beaten. The late poet and essayist Audre Lorde provides us with the analysis, and the tools, to do this. In Your Silence Will Not Protect You she tells us: “Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”