In October, as Illinois’ adopted son Barack Obama rose in the national presidential polls, a group of Chicago poets gathered for an “Obama open mic,” as part of an event called Poets for a Better Country. Organized by Toi Derricotte and Judith Vollmer, poets and professors at the University of Pittsburgh, the event was held simultaneously in cities across the country, including Chicago, Falmouth, Mass., New York City, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. “As poets, we have a historic duty to express the unspoken passion, rage, desires and hopes of our country. It’s imperative that poets who share Obama’s vision for restoring human decency — and there are thousands of us — make a public stand,” Derricotte said in a statement calling for poets to participate. Each event raised money to donate to Obama’s campaign.
At left are poems written for and delivered at the event, the first three by Chicago poets, and the last by Vollmer, one of the organizers.
Hope is a four-letter word
is the first line of a poem I want to write
about Barack Obama and the hope
he brings to all of us. I do not
have the poem yet but I have
the refrain. The refrain is:
Hope is a four-letter word.
The poem will be about the way in which
we have all felt we cannot express hope
for a long time and now we can. It will imply
through the use of the phrase “is a four letter word”
that hope has been as forbidden as an expletive,
that it has been unholy to say the word:
hope. And the refrain of this poem will be:
Hope is a four-letter word.
At one particularly heightened point in
the verse I will refer to the candidate as “Barack Pandora”
for opening the box and letting the four-letter bird of hope into our lives.
I will explain that Obama’s candidacy has opened the box
and brought out of hiding the demons of racism and apathy
and inequality and injustice. The hope his candidacy brought
was like a four-letter bird flapping her winds, shaking the dust
of those demons off her wings, throwing those dusty old demons out of the box
and into the light of CNN and YouTube. His candidacy
has unmasked these demons for discussion. It has unpacked
the box for debate. His candidacy made it possible
— made it necessary — to openly discuss these demons.
We are facing the true nature of our nation
as we face whether or not
we are going to elect Barack Obama President.
His candidacy opened the box and at the bottom of this box is hope,
which remains to us,
and I will hope. I do hope. I am hoping now. The poem
will be extremely hopeful. Hope is a four letter-word
and I will use it like one. I will say “What the hope” and “Hope yeah!”
and “Why the hope not?” and “I swear to hope it’s about hoping time
this country got hoping ready to elect Barack Obama President!”
Not only will I use this refrain,
Hope is a four-letter word,
but I will also use other poetic devices,
such as rhyme and repetition, to make the point of the poem.
Through sound and image I will unite the idea of Hope
with the idea of Barack Obama’s candidacy.
I will call, through comparison, this country
a piece of paper — and I will fold that paper
to make an origami animal
of the four-letter bird of hope,
to make a new beginning for a nation
that has forgotten how to spell justice.
To fold the bird of the new beginning,
take the tattered map of this compromised country,
red on one side, blue on the other,
and fold it along the Mason-Dixon line.
Fold it again along the triangle of the Mississippi Delta.
Fold it west at Tornado Alley, west again
at the Rocky Mountains, west at the San Andreas Fault.
Fold it east at the Appalachians and at the Atlantic.
To open the origami, place one thumb on the state of Illinois
and one on the state of Hawaii.
Open the fold at November Fourth
and you will see a nation that is neither red nor blue
but purple, the color of victory, a victory for all of us
in the election of Barack Obama as the President of this nation.
You will see a nation that spells its name,
The United States of America,
with just four letters –
I am not as good a poet
as Obama is a politician.
I cannot write the poem I am dreaming of.
But he can build the nation we are all hoping for.
On the fourth of November, two thousand and eight,
all things are possible,
all men are created equal,
and all the world's a page in the book of history
about to be turned, and the first word
at the top of the next page —
I can’t see it, but I know what it says —
has just four letters.
By Roberto Del Rio
Redux the influx of stuff that got stuck in the lap of lux
Trust no one and when you are done
Throw it on the floor
F--- a can, man
Stand on your god given land
This is yours and was no one else’s
What is this plight, you speak of?
This is America and god bless this mess
And you can bet it is for our best
If we let the distractions distract
And mothers begin to contract
As the contact becomes more and more plastic
And we will stretch the elastic
Of our intellectual briefs
To a point where wherever we were before
Was never really anywhere at all
But a state of ruction
A state of ruckus
Fix us a drink and think of the success of this ruckus
And you might think it misandric to say I hate men
But I don’t hate men I hate you
And if you would have thought in something other than sand for a bit
I wouldn’t have the desire to kick the proverbial s--- out of you
With your geography of thought and meander of opinion
And your voice worthless and the same as everyone else in the room
You are governed by those men upstairs
You really were a people pleaser
Spoiler alert: you’ll just tease her
And tell her to shut up
Because she hasn’t a choice
Because you would prefer the brown down
And the green grow miles and miles
Full of oil and turmoil
By the reluctance of a public
Brainwashed by television commercials for soap
I bet you have some things you’d like to clean off your record
Well congratulations, your time is up
And there isn’t anywhere else to look but up.
by Tara Keogh
the word is our sword
in the democratic
republic of sound
it’s so renowned
that we can forget
to listen and hear
the small voices
in the rear
those that might
rise us all
to the union hall
to make our mark
and light the spark
if we don’t erase
our death masks
marching into towns
like deadly clowns
too young to over stand
too afraid to rage
against the man
to be civilized
or to criticize
even when it’s
so stop the idiocy
stop the lunacy
reclaim the presidency
with love and hope
that your vote
will be counted
on the surge
for blood oil
from the sand
from a land
not our own
but one of
again and again
for our greed
for our need
or to believe
that that’s what
we do when
we screw around
all over the globe
flash bang strobe
our way to success
or maybe just dress
for the lessons of war
the color is black
the mood is sombre
so you must remember
when you vote for change
let’s truly rearrange
the face of the country
the head of the nation
it just can’t
remain the same
it just can’t
for too many
reasons to explain
so go Obama
go hope and
some faith in
our republic renewed
in democracy true
to the people
if we can only
just return to an
by Judith Vollmer
Call one solar flare
and grasp that
in the palm of your hand.
The world’s windows
are down all the way
cooling faces & arms tanned & tight
from brick-laying & water-hauling.
Relief is driving
with somewhere to go — Susquehanna once
the southwest arm of the Hudson
long, 10,000 years
before roads like this, before the mile-high waters of the Palisades
collapsed into the Atlantic.
Relief comes easy
on the roads into the big Allegheny woods,
huge sun riding, pressing down on the leaves & needles,
grasses going fiber-orange & bedsheet pink
going to perfect straw at the source.
Now go back to the good
morning’s work you were doing
in November while hearing
for once, a little Justice.
Illinois Issues, December 2008