Poet Danielle Hanson strives to create and facilitate wonder. She’s the author of the poetry collections Fraying Edge of Sky and Ambushing Water and was a finalist for 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Award. Her poetry has been the basis for Haunting the Wrong House, a Center for Puppetry Arts show. She is poetry editor for Doubleback Books and on the staff of the Atlanta Review.
Writing, visual art and performance have always been political acts. This is what I was taught, and it feels true, but living in a relatively safe and free country, I hadn’t taken the time to really think of why. I’m very glad to be asked to speak on this subject. Like all the tenets we learn when young, this one needed to be examined. A tenet held without reflection is just dogma, isn’t it? I know that in many places in the world, over many time periods, writers and artists were at risk of arrest, execution, torture. So of course creating art is a political act. But many of the works I’ve read by such writers didn’t strike me as “political” writing.
But “political” isn’t party politics. Connection is political. Engagement is political. Hope for the future is political. Inspiration is political. When we live in a free society, these are easily taken as givens. But with a pandemic limiting our movement and divisive politicians disrupting our connections, don’t we all feel a little heavier? Don’t we all feel like we lack energy for new things?
Another thought: Art is one way we engage with others publicly and define what “us” is. It connects us in the best way, with play and emotion. That connection leads us to build things together and enjoy each other’s company. Maybe that’s what politics is — the public “us.” What we build together and who we are as a people reflected in that building.
I watched the Inauguration and when Amanda Gorman read her poem, I felt energy. I was excited to get to work. My social media feeds since then have been filled with non-writer friends talking about poetry, about Amanda and the hope they feel. There’s energy in the room again. We still have divisiveness. We still have coronavirus spreading. But we have hope, and art did that. Poetry did that. There’s power in calling out that energy. There’s power in giving hope. There’s power in undercutting fear used to control people. Hearing a poem helped us breathe again. It made us feel like we could do something great, that we could build something. Together. That’s a force against tyranny and division. That’s the people, politic.