Every Movement Was Inspired By Poetry

Robert Frost believes that’ poetry is when an emotion has found it’s thought and that thought has words’, and I believe that too. In most ways, poetry explores the relation between freedom and experience. In the 19th century alone, a lot of movements have started, and their inspiration has been one form of poetry or the other. You need to have a definite passion for thought for without freedom to think you are just that minute speck of dust among the billions in this universe. Poetry brings about change. It brings out unbidden emotions and feelings. But most importantly it encourages us to think, and with this it brings about a new perspective of the matter on mind. As a caged bird feels when it is set free, so does your mind when it becomes free from all the prejudices and preconceived notions that have been granted in our minds, since childhood. You look at the world from a completely different perspective, and that is what poetry has the capability to do.

Poetry forces change. Throughout the nineteenth century, it is evident that poetry has revolutionized the need for change. When you talk of poetry as a hand of change, you refer to the many poetic movements that brought about a significant change, some of which we shall discuss through the course of this paper. The first movement that was inspired by poetry was the Civil Rights Movement. From (1885- 1950), after the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the U.S., certain laws passed by State legislatures ensured racial segregation in the southern part, which subsequently spread across the entirety of the United States. By the mid-1950s, widespread protests for acquiring the rights and freedom of all Americans ensued. Due to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 adding to the widespread protestations, the Civil Rights Act was introduced. Poets, (like Margaret Walker, Nikki Giovanni, and June Jordan), used their works to instill a sense of pride in one’s own identity, to chronicle acts of resistance, and offer wisdom and strength to fellow activists.

Other poets also contributed a lot to this movement - Ossy Davis and Ruby Dec, Paul Robeson, Nina Simone, and Belafonte, to name a few. The next movement occurred in the 60’s, but one who’s exact time cannot be pinpointed – the Feminist Movement. This type of poetry focused broadly on topics relating to feminism and women, and this poetry was influenced by a great need for social change, but also by poets like Emily Dickinson. A lot of prominent female poets walked the hall of fame during that time- Maya Angelou (who’s poetry was often more than not , praised for her depictions of black beauty, women, and the human spirit ), Audre Corde ( who in one of her works describes herself as ‘ black , lesbian, mother , warrior, poet’, and whose poetry confronts racial, homophobic and sexist injustices ), and Adrienne Rich (who had an influential role in the anti-war movement, exploring radicalism , and whose works depicted issues of identity , sexuality ,and politics ).

The Beats, or the Beatniks as they were called by the Americans, was America’s first major Cold War literary movement. Their work was influential in American politics and culture in the post-World War 2 era. This movement whose epicenter was the Bohemia artist communities of San Francisco’s North Beach, Los Angeles’ Venice West, and New York City’s Greenwich Village, adopted a unique style of ‘seedy’ dress manners and ‘hip’ vocabulary borrowed from jazz musicians. Though they were completely disinterested in politics and indifferent to social problems, they ‘advocated personal release, purification and illumination through the heightened sensory awareness that might be induced by drugs, jazz, or the disciplines of Zen Buddhism. The main aim of these Beat Generation Poets was to ‘liberate poetry from academic preciosity’ and bring it ‘back to the streets’, and for a short amount of time they succeeded.

But come 1960’s, and the movement began to fade, it had shaped a number of writers – Ferlinghetti, Corso, and Gary Snyder. It gave way for the people to accept other unorthodox and previously ignored writers like the Black Mountain and the novelist William Burroughs. Protest poetry, who had very deep roots in the U.S., was used to oppose slavery / the Vietnam War/ segregation and racial oppression / the Iraq War, etc. As Lorde believes, ‘by revealing those in power for what they really are, poetry can become more than protest- it can incite radical change needed for a revolution’. A prime instance of this is when in 1819, Percy Bysshe Shelby switched to pen-poetic verse in protest at the Peterloo massacre. “Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you Ye are many, they are few”.

The emergence of protest poetry was primarily in the 60s and during the Vietnam Warm where voices like Adrian Mitchell (‘Tell Me Lies About Vietnam ‘) were heard. Another example of such a work is the satire ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, by Gill Scott Heron, which calls for a change while simultaneously criticizing the status quo. War poetry which was heavily prevalent in Europe, started in 1914, when young men in a uniform started to write poetry to express extreme emotions while they experienced it, such as works of Rosenberg, Sasson and Owen, which according to Andrew Motion are what he calls ‘sacred national texts. The song ‘We Shall Overcome ‘by Peter Sieg is another example of such a type of poetry. Holocaust Poetry, which may be categorized as another form of war poetry. In the global war during (1939-45), the holocaust, the blitz, and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing, no poet was left untouched by the experience of war. Thereon, a lot of poets started to poeticize on it, line Nicholas Ratnotti. War poetry sometimes also contains some forms of Anti-War poetry, but not necessarily so.

The Hungry Generation, or the Hungrealists emerged from Calcutta just after the Bengal Famine, in the 60’s in post-partition Bengal. The Hungry Generation, which was founded by Shakti Chattopadhyay and Allen Kinsberg, among others, wrote mainly on obscenity (sexuality, drugs, sex, ambient behavior, etc.). This movement broke all the conventions of writing, as they were different in form, content and rhythm from the traditional ‘elitist’ works that dominated the literary sphere at that time. They wanted a new language. A new literary space that was open and accessible to all Bengalis, not just to an elite few. They saw Tagore’s language as ‘vegetarian’, but their language was focused on being streetwise and colloquial , for the people , such that it was relatable and raw. It was the “language of life “, that most saw as being vulgar and obscene. They identified themselves as a part of the post-colonial period that disconnected itself from ‘colonial canons. They published their work through single-sheeted pamphlets that would then be distributed in coffee houses, colleges and offices. “The Hungrealists left an indelible mark on not just Bengali literature, but also that of India. This generation is remembered as literary heroes, however romanticized our notions may be. These writers were hungry for a new voice, and found themselves in a storm of politics and bold, brave words that stood as a declaration for a change, one that they themselves put into notion “.

In this way each and every movement was inspired by poetry, for without poetry there can be no thought, and without thought there is no change.

03 December 2019
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