Many of us think of poetry as so refined that we can only refer to it occasionally, like fine silverware that you can’t put in the dishwasher. Piercing minds go mute around poetry. It is imagined to be overly technical, like advanced arithmetic; otherworldly, priestess-like; suffocatingly personal; excessively decorative; exhaustingly bourgeois or tiringly avant-garde. (Some of this is true, especially the bourgeois part.)
Yet we shouldn’t give up on poetry, if only because we need a different public language to describe our country. Conventional public discourse is boring, too familiar and brittle: the spray-on-tan blather of pundits on CNN, the coo of commerce, the drained, template-like rhetoric of political speech.
That’s where poetry, that oft-forgotten form, comes in, a specific kind of verse called “civic poetry.” Civic poetry is public poetry. It is political poetry. It is about the hard stuff of life: money, crime, gender, corporate excess, racial injustice. It gives expression not just to our rites but also to our problems and even our values; these poems are not about rustic vacations.