Magazine article Radical Teacher

Poems from the Occupy Movement

Magazine article Radical Teacher

Poems from the Occupy Movement

Article excerpt


From the beginning of the Occupy Movement, poetry has occupied a major supporting role. Both the New York and Boston encampments immediately set up a library tent, and poetry readings were a regular part of the camp's activities. I took the T to Dewey Square in Boston in October 2011 to participate in one of the camp's weekly poetry readings. It was raining. The tents stood shoulder to shoulder, blue and dripping with water, crowded onto an island in Boston's financial district. A 10 foot tall wooden statue of Gandhi on wheels gazed peacefully over the camp. I stood there looking up at him backgrounded by the black glass of a skyscraper housing a bank and talked with a white bearded Vietnam vet who said his back would not take living in the camp, but he came down every day to be part of Occupy, which he had been waiting for, for almost 40 years. There were about 15 of us reading that day outside in the rain, the camp bordered on all four sides by busy streets, busses, trucks, and car sirens and horns. We had a speaker system which kept shorting out from water dripping on it; one of our number periodically banged on the microphone to make it work as we took turns, water dripping off our hoods onto our poems turning into pulp in our hands. Sounds soggy, but in fact it was incredibly exciting. Politically, communally, and poetically.

The selections in this offering of poetry from the U.S. Occupy Movement come from the hundreds of poems written, read, submitted and collected during 2011 and 2012 on various websites and blogs, and in one print anthology so far. These poems were chosen to represent the scope of the Movement across the United States; to capture the look, sound, and spirit of various Occupy sites; to raise political issues central to Occupy protesters and their supporters; to showcase a range of excellent political poetry specific to a contemporary progressive movement; and to provide accessible, vivid, and well-crafted poems for use in middle school, secondary school and college curriculum on the Occupy Movement. *

The poems here are mostly in free verse, though prose poems, haiku, found poetry and a duet with a rock and roll ballad are included--" After 99 weeks not working, dude, you'll never, no never go back." I did run across a tanka, a villanelle, a pantoum, a sestina, a sonnet or two, and a lot of slam/performance poetry. Play with the meanings, associations, and synonyms of the word "occupy" is irresistible. Provocative lists of grievances, bills of rights and declarations of independence from the abuses of monopoly capitalism are here, as well as powerful images of community and celebration. The people

   rolled in wheelchairs, walked with walkers, rode in buses
   or ran with breathless abandon, carrying signs and banners,
   dancing to music and speeches,
   marching to whatever drummer they chose

or, more metaphorically, are "rag-tag surgeons of man's greed and waste" or crows noisy, ungovernable, who "like to nurse their/grudges and pass along your name." The camps: "boxes of carrots, battered apples, scribbled-on cardboard-/inscriptions like unloaded pistols, peace being swordless." The bullying 1%: "I mean who else lunch money would they steal and be able to get away with it." Occupy clearly caught the poetic as well as the political imagination of the country. The ghosts of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, each an expert on occupation, hover over the camps.

We hope you will enjoy these poems and find them useful in your classrooms, and that you will check out the hundreds more on line and in print.

* Sources for more Occupy poetry:

* The first print Occupy anthology, Liberty's Vigil, the Occupy Anthology, eds. Karla Linn Merrifleld and Dain Wilder (

* A print anthology in production, Occupy SF: Poems from the Movement, eds., Virginia Barrett and Bobby Coleman (www. …

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