Poetry

Photo courtesy Free Minds

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM in the United States is gaining momentum with each graphic video showing fatal police abuse. In the aftermath of the many deaths of unarmed black men and women and the city-wide protests that erupted in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland, it is not surprising that presidential hopefuls are making bold public statements about the need to change a system that is profoundly unjust, overly punitive, and excessively costly to run.

At the other end of the spectrum, away from TV cameras and political wrangling, activists such as Tara Libert and Kelli Taylor, co-founders of the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop, are dealing with decades of draconian anti-crime policies that have resulted in mass incarceration rates marked by racial disparities that have had a devastating impact on families and communities.

The numbers speak for themselves. Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prison population. According to The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization working to reform the U.S. criminal justice system, more than 2.2 million Americans are now locked up in prisons and jails across the country—a 500-percent increase over the past 30 years. Furthermore, those who are incarcerated come largely from the most disadvantaged segments of the population.

The Editors 04-21-2015

In recognition of National Poetry Month’s “Poetry in Our Pocket Day,” and in celebration of Sojourners’ historical love of poetry, our staff selected some favorite poems below. 

Jenna Barnett 03-17-2015

While statistics, tweets, marches, and articles can bolster and enliven movements, art brings in the endurance. Art makes injustice a song that gets stuck in your head. Art makes murals out of obituaries, and hope out of statistics. Below, check out some of the art surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement:

Robert Hirschfield 01-06-2015

Poet and Vietnam vet Bruce Weigl writes of war and reconciliation. 

I.
The wailing and the murmured prayers,
the animal ruckus, and coin against coin,
smoke hanging in the temple spaces—
offerings that bear our love to the seat of heaven.

For sixty years my soul has leaned
so hard toward the Almighty, I’m open
like a flower drenched with light
that blossoms into words.

Yet I wonder, will I rest too soon
will I sleep like Miriam
with no honey from the Promised Land
to sweeten this old life?

51.

Marilyn Seven 11-06-2014

Wizards! Caspar! Melchior! Balthasar!
Why fly straight to Fox Herod? Through
Unbounded night—! Bringing only news
Ripe for bloodletting. How black a star
You follow. Herod knows. How bizarre
A kingly claim. Will he oppose? Muse
Like Mary? Ha—! Mothers’ sons lose
Heads to swords & axes. Herod bars
The throne to Jesus. Who kills first?
Herod orders. Dash ’em every one—!
Every male child under two years old.
God’s son Jesus flees to Egypt. Thirst
For blood remains. Later he won’t run.

Ryan Herring reads Langston Hughes' "Harlem" as photos of Ferguson are displayed.

Naomi Shihab Nye 10-10-2014

Boys on a beach,
women with cookpots,
men bombing tender patches of mint.

There is no righteous position.
Only a place where brown feet
touch the earth.

Maybe you call it yours.
Maybe someone else runs it.
What do you prefer?

09-22-2014
Billy Graham has had many high-profile friends over the years, and among them is U2 frontman and international rockstar Bono.
09-22-2014
It’s no secret that U2 frontman Bono is a Bible-believing Christian — but what some might not know is that the musician is friends with famed evangelist Billy Graham.
09-22-2014
U2 rock band leader, Bono, once wrote a poem for Billy Graham after visiting the retired evangelist in his home in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Shefa Siegel 09-21-2014
Leonard Cohen in Florence in 2010 / Route66 / Shutterstock.com

Leonard Cohen in Florence in 2010 / Route66 / Shutterstock.com

On September 21, Leonard Cohen Turned 80. With or Without a Cigarette, It’s Time to Celebrate.

“I hope I stay on the road a little bit longer - but you may not be so enthusiastic when you hear my reason. You see I want to start smoking next year when I'll be 80. It's been a long barren time. I think it’s the right age to recommence.” Leonard Cohen

I dreamed you were in Florence, singing on some stage. Your back was to the men, the women by your sides. Your melody was tranquil, just humming do-re-me-fa, la-fa-re-me-do. And when there was commotion, some men quarreling behind the scene, you turned and faced them calmly, beseeching, “Gentlemen, let’s sing.”

You have left us these past months, ceased your universal tour. It gives us time to miss you, and wonder what you mean. This week you will be eighty, there’s no question, you are old. Your bones may creak or ache and I’ll guess your heart’s a little tired, but from outside looking in you seem settled in a pretty gentle space.

So in the dream your melodies kept coming, like a river from its source. “You’re doing it,” someone shouted. “It’s exactly what we want!” People were casually swaying until your voice started to get hoarse. “Well, I’m glad you like it,” you croaked joyfully, “I call this solemn mingling my little Florentine Prayer.”

Lou Ella Hickman 08-05-2014

for miriam

Brian Doyle 07-09-2014

And it turned out that they had gone over the million / Prayer mark for our son

The Editors 06-13-2014

Daneil Beaty performs “Knock Knock,” a powerful poem that tells the story of his father’s incarceration.

Madeline Mysko 06-04-2014

I consider the moonflower: / how the big spent blooms look like / three linen tea towels rinsed and wrung out

Rebecca Kraybill 06-03-2014

Daniel Beaty in "Through the Night"

A conversation with writer and performer Daniel Beaty.

Samuel Harrison 05-13-2014

"Elevation of the Cross," by Peter Paul Rubens

Through the slippery spirit's incomprehensible means / A perfect surrender.

Rose Marie Berger 04-04-2014

A poetry reading from Wendell Berry's "This Day"

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