A few weeks ago a friend forwarded an email to me. “Check this out,” they said, “the LA Times is set to feature opinion poetry.”
The short article, Calling all opinionated poets, stated the following:
If you’ve ever tried to submit a poem to Opinion, you’ve probably gotten a reply noting that we simply don’t print poetry. We didn’t print the poem that came in the shape of the World Trade Center towers after 9/11; we didn’t print the poem that came in this month after the Trayvon Martin verdict; and we didn’t print any of the hundreds of poems that came in between those events.
But we’ve decided to make a one-time exception. We are inviting Op-Poetry submissions from readers, and on Sunday, Aug. 25, we’ll devote a page of our print section to the best of what comes in.
My first thought was how silly is it that the LA Times hasn’t accepted poetry submissions lately. But my second thought – how great they are featuring timely, newsworthy, opinionated poetry now – was the one sustainable.
Too often poets seem to go into the well of themselves for material. Those poets who travel or dissect the news for the sake of a poem are often excluded from journals because a poem about a topical topic can alienate readers of journals – especially when the publication date may not be for another six months after the submission. And that’s IF the piece is ever accepted. More likely is that years will pass and the poet is left with a piece that once burned bright with relevance but is now blurred under dust.
The LA Times released the selected poems a few days ago, with this as the lead-in:
When we put out a call for Op-Ed poetry, we had no idea how many budding poets were out there. But by the time the Aug. 16 deadline rolled around, we’d gotten more than 1,500 submissions, many of them including multiple poems. There was even one, by E. Milton Wilson of Claremont, addressing the plight of the opinion editors: “The deadline nears. The poets have spoke. Editors wish about now it had all been a joke!”
How do you judge opinion poetry? That’s something we grappled with. Literary quality was important. But so were newsworthiness. Clarity of argument. Humor didn’t hurt either. The poems we selected are certainly representative of what we received, and we think each of them makes a strong point with eloquence — and sometimes with wit.
Expressing strong points – newsworthy, social points – with eloquence? That poets are just now being given this platform feels ridiculous, but we must move beyond that and do what it takes to keep it rolling. Conversations will go deeper; serious issues will be understood more fully; deserving poets will have a say and that say will help shape arguments, even movements.
Poets, support your fellow poets. Let’s keep this stage lit for years to come.