120.1: Andrew Wessels:: The Poetry of Politics, the Politics of Poetry 120

"In the spirit of the election season (and also in the spirit of rebelling against the election season), we present a group of writers who both confront and reject politics through an aesthetic act..." Andrew Wessels

The Poetry of Politics, the Politics of Poetry


As I write this introduction, we are barely more than a week from election night. The news is dominated by talk of polls, campaign stops, spin, gaffes, special interests, claims, counter-claims, empty arguments, and incessant babble. You, as I, might have watched the debates or religiously followed Nate Silver’s poll tracking at 538. Regardless of one’s attempts to avoid it, we are forcefully immersed in a morass of politics and political uses of (destructions of?) language.

This is not an uplifting experience. Emerson would be ashamed of all of us.

However, there does seem to be reason for some hope. Bits and pieces of language from this political morass like “horses and bayonets” or “binders full of women” have become trigger points for the creation of art. Many of the Internet memes that have been created using these phrases, while oftentimes still retaining a political message, claim a primary fidelity with aesthetics rather than politics. While to some degree these are jokes used to release some of the tension and frustration of the political process, they are also simultaneously making a claim for art as a restorative and necessary pursuit.

Which leads me to this week’s issue here at TOA. In the spirit of the election season (and also in the spirit of rebelling against the election season), we present a group of writers who both confront and reject politics through an aesthetic act. On Monday, Craig Santos Perez displays the political perspective of the disenfranchised and colonized of Guam, where the island and residents of Guam become little more than a place for the Presidents’ plane to re-fuel. Kristin Sanders writes a series of poems analyzing and questioning the idea and physical reality of the feminine by responding to art by Brad Bourgoyne that is then redacted, made invisible. Moriah Purdy and Stephanie Rozene bring us a collaborative work with poems by Purdy accompanying ceramics by Rozene that explore the various conflicting ideals, paradoxes, and personas implicit in the complex roles Presidents and First Ladies play as host and hostess of the United States.

On Tuesday, Diana Arterian utilizes the words of the condemned to craft poems that question the interaction and contradiction between systems of politics, law, ethics, and morality, forcing us to examine the divergence between humanity and the death penalty. And, lastly, Brett Evans subverts the political horse-race of campaigning and our collective obsession with winners and losers by propagating a seemingly endless series of imagined pairs of foes that run the gamut from absurd and humorous to poignant.

Curating this special issue has given me hope if not in our political process, then at least in our ability to ultimately transcend the political and remain human through the creation and observation of the aesthetic act. It is my hope that these poems will, similarly, help you remain human in this last week of election season and into the future.