Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Political Poem” is a cautionary statement about the danger of separating poetry from real-world society and politics, but also about the danger of putting it at the service of political beliefs that are out of touch with society. Although it would be a mistake to identify the first-person speaker of the poem with Baraka himself, it would also be a mistake to miss such things as the reference to Newark, where Baraka lived when he wrote this poem. The speaker who declares, “I have not seen the earth for years,” seems to be a version of Baraka—that is, the poet he would be if he did not write poetry that actively engaged the political issues of his day.

As such, because this poet is trying to write a type of poetry that can only thrive “under heavy tarpaulins,” his poem is easily interrupted—by a phone call, by a turkey sandwich, and by the “bad words of Newark.” The real world undoes his poetry.

In the course of his ruminations on this dilemma, however, this poet’s position evolves. He realizes the futility of trying to create poetry in isolation from the world and cannot help but see his efforts in a wider context of trying to fill the breech of “this/ crumbling century” with “the darkness of love.” Yet this position—of trying to create a bridge of love with his poems—is insufficient and is “undone by the logic of any specific death.” More must go into the poetry; anger as well as love has a place...

(The entire section is 469 words.)