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By Michael Dowdy

Dowdy uncovers and analyzes the first rhetorical thoughts, really figures of voice, in American political poetry from the Vietnam battle period to the current.

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Extra resources for American Political Poetry into the 21st Century (American Literature Readings in the Twenty-First Century)

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In junior high and in high school everything I learned about African American history, the Civil Rights Movement, and radical movements of the 1960s came from listening to hip-hop. Because I was not learning about them in history classes, these glimpses of a broader American history were, I see now, crucial in forming my views about the world and my interests as a poet, scholar, and teacher. L. Smooth, and Poor Righteous Teachers—some when I was as young as twelve years old—had an immeasurable impact on my sense of justice and my desire to learn about cultural and political figures rarely mentioned in school.

They both depict these experiences as illuminating as well as confounding. Forché’s “The Colonel” and Komunyakaa’s “We Never Know” are dramatically different poems formally, the first a prose poem, the second a brief imagist poem. Though both poems turn on dramatic, visceral images, the self-conscious first-person speaker is the key component of both poems, as it is for many poems discussed in this chapter. Both poems, moreover, echo the observations of Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, a character whose internal monologue is inseparable from his interaction with the world and with other people.

Giddens suggests that human practices—the habitual acts we engage in on a daily basis—rather than roles “should be regarded as the points of articulation between actors and structures” (117), a principle that leads away from understanding agents in poems as occupying essential or representative roles (as an African American, as a poor person, as a dictator, and so on); instead, subjects, speakers, and characters in poems are better understood by their practices, language, and their actions and consequences.

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