Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
“Sometimes joy means you have to be an archaeologist and an astronomer rolled into one. Sometimes you gotta dig deeper. Sometimes you have to see farther.”
Near the end of 2017, I found myself thinking a lot about anthemic poems— big, inspiring, powerful pieces that go beyond just “being right” about an issue, or just being well-crafted, or just getting high slam scores. For me, anthemic poems are poems that do a specific kind of work– if they’re political, for example, they preach to the choir in a way that is both validating and challenging; they’re not hyper-specific critiques (which can also be good and valuable) as much as they are rallying cries or calls to action. These are poems that don’t just get snaps in spoken word spaces; they could be performed at a march, or a campaign kickoff, or in other spaces where energy and vision are needed.
“Joy” is an anthem. It may not be “political” in the sense described above, but it challenges us to understand the term “political” in a deeper, fuller way. By zooming in on a relatable, human situation, the poem finds an entry point for an exploration of a concept that is too often flattened into greeting-card platitudes. Joy isn’t just falling in love and living happily ever after– it is also “finding yourself warm enough for these lonely winter nights,” and “being beautiful, and not having to have a man tell you so.”
Poems don’t have to have happy endings. They don’t have to teach us things, or have specific thesis statements. But there is power in intentionality, in challenging ourselves to ask “what do I want people to walk away with after they’ve read/heard this poem?” That question gets to the core of how I think about anthems, as well as why I think Harris’ poem works so well.