The Responsibility of the Poet

Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth. In the process of telling the truth about what you feel or what you see, each of us has to get in touch with himself or herself in a really deep, serious way. Our culture does not encourage us to undertake that attunement. Consequently, most of us really exist at the mercy of other people’s formulations of what’s important.

But if you’re in the difficult process of living as a poet, you’re constantly trying to make an attunement to yourself which no outside manipulation or propaganda can disturb. That makes you a sturdy, dependable voice—which others want to hear and respond to. So, poetry becomes a means for useful dialogue between people who are not only unknown, but mute to each other. It produces a dialogue among people that guards all of us against manipulation by our so-called leaders.

June Jordan from an interview with Colorlines, a daily news site written by a multiracial team of writers, in December 1998. Jordan (1936-2002), was a highly respected African-American poet, essayist, and professor of African-American studies. A prolific writer, she published more than 25 books of poetry and essays. In 1998 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Writers’ Conference.

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