Poetry and Politics: Kevin Powell for Congress

NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYNby Kevin Powell; Soft Skull Press, 2008.

Poetry and politics. Politics and poetry. Where do the two meet? Should they meet? Who is the most political poet? Who is the most poetic politician? It feels like I hear these kinds of questions all around poetry e-world and, more often than not, the resulting answer seems to be: Let’s throw a round table discussion around it!


Especially when there are poets who are able to shift seamlessly between the two worlds. Maybe because they realize that there are two worlds and the way you interact in each should be based upon what end product you wish to see. I think back to the elections of 2008 and how I saw writer Helen Zia out in front of an Oakland Chinatown polling station with a “Say No to Prop 8” sign. No metaphor, no simile, no conceit. Just the citizen and her opinion in clear terms.

This brings me to poet Kevin Powell and his run for political office. This is Powell’s third attempt to represent the people of Brooklyn in Congress and he does so in very concrete and articulate terms as you can read for yourself at his website.

This isn’t an endorsement of Powell. I am not a resident of Brooklyn and would be hard pressed to tell anyone living there who they should and shouldn’t vote for. Again, check Powell’s record and agenda for yourself.

This is an endorsement for political/poetry with the divide firmly between the two because every poet must be a citizen of some state. Even if you don’t wish to make it a geographic center point, there must still be some origin point for your poetics and, hopefully, an end point in the horizon where you wish your words to be heard, read and felt. If that end point is to create a shift in the political consciousness of the United States of America, more power to you. If that end point is to create a shift in the political workings of the United States of America, then the pen and pad is not enough, the stage and microphone is not enough, a press and distribution is not enough—you need to actually move and shake the system itself.

Props to writers like Kevin Powell, Helen Zia, and everyone else who knows the distinction, can step outside of the writing world, and ventures to take that intense political risk.