“Vote. Because this system should serve more than those who clutch dead ideals and documents drenched in dust; it should serve us”
I’m highlighting some older poems that are personal favorites of mine; it’s a way to shout out some good work, and also to analyze some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers. Find the full list here.
This month, I wanted to share this Tish Jones poem (via TakeAction MN, shot by Line Break Media, featuring music by Big Cats too!) for three reasons:
1. First, Tish is the Executive Director of TruArtSpeaks, an organization I just donated $1000 to, because I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and vital their work is. There are just a few days left to reach this year’s $10k fundraising goal, so PLEASE consider joining me in powering that work.
2. Second, this is a poem about the importance of voting. I write something about voting pretty much every year, and have a post coming with more thoughts and resources related to that. For now, though, I think this poem is a great reminder for those of us (especially those of us who CAN vote) who aren’t already plugged in to plug the hell in. Schedule time to do it. Ask questions and gather resources if you need to. Find local organizations like TakeAction MN and dive in, volunteer for campaigns, have a plan.
In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation, people are hurting, and angry, and sad. That’s all valid. Voting absolutely isn’t the only thing we can do. But it is one concrete action that can contribute to the larger movement-building work that needs to happen. Again, I’ll be sharing more links and resources later this month. Oh also note, that this video is from 2014, and election day THIS year is not 11/4– it’s 11/6.
3. Finally, on a form level, this is a great poem to analyze in the context of the question: how do we effectively construct calls-to-action in poems? I just had a great workshop/conversation with some poets over at Macalester College where we discussed this, and it’s a question that I am personally invested in asking wherever I go, especially when working with other poets. It is skill to be able to write a poem that isn’t just “right” or “compelling” about whatever topic it’s exploring, but has some kind of concrete action to share with its audience. It’s hard to do well. It’s easy to be corny, or preachy, or just not very interesting.
I think this poem succeeds for a few reasons:
- The poem knows what it is. I get a very clear sense of who Tish is and what she values, as well as who the target audience of the poem is.
- On a craft level, there’s a lot of attention paid to sonic elements like assonance, alliteration, repetition and rhyme. It works as a poem first. Especially with the first point here in mind, it’s engaging in terms of how it flows and choices made around sound.
- It’s short. Brevity matters in general, but especially for this kind of poem, it can’t drag on for five minutes. Make it punchy. Make your point and bounce.
- The poem uses juxtaposition in a subtle but powerful way– large and small, ancestors and future generations, the powers-that-be and the power we have access to– all of these frameworks and set up in an intentional way that flows into the larger statement that the poem is making.
- On a content level, the poem isn’t parroting the old “vote because it’s your civic DUTY” line; it’s saying something more specific, and more meaningful. It’s connecting the listener– especially the listener who may not come from a privileged place in society– to a history of struggle, not to mention a *present* in which far too many people have had their rights stripped away. That connection drives the call-to-action. The poem does a lot of work in just a minute-and-a-half.
- Find more from Tish Jones (and book her for your college, conference, etc.) here.
- Find more about TruArtSpeaks on all social media: @TruArtSpeaks
- Find a full list of my poem commentary/analysis essays here.
Yeah, that's a good point; maybe a version with no date at all, so it can be used every year. I can reach out. Thanks.
Do you think you or Tish could get Take Action to just update the General Election date on the video? I love it and want to share it but also don't want misinformation if we can avoid it!