In the last year of my undergraduate career, I’ve been reconsidering the role of writing as a type of artistic performance, and, more importantly, as a type of social change. How does writing make tides, swing past doors? What is it about writing in particular that makes others move to action, or shout? At a very basic level, written language is performative. I read stop signs, and halt my car. I read class e-mails and turn shit in.

Illustration by Megan Mulholland

But when it comes to creative writing, how can we use poetry and prose to move others beyond directive action? How can poetry be used as a form of social change? In other words, when does writing become more than a “good” poem, or a “good” story? When does writing spark movement?

When I teach writing workshops to high school students, I tell them I’m not interested in whether or not they can use fancy metaphors, or how many Shakespeare references they can squeeze in a line. I’m not interested in whether or not their poetry “sounds good.” I am interested in what they — and I, too — fear: being responsible for ourselves. Poetry is largely a practice of holding myself accountable. For me, poetry moves me to action when I begin naming my OWN joy and my OWN fear. I do not want others to name it, or me. I ask my students to reconsider how the poem reshapes or celebrates or challenges a question of the self. How the poem creates a new vision. Not every poem has to be “deep,” nor does every poem have to have an agenda behind it. But I believe that poetry can create movement and action when others begin to seize their own languages, and undertake the project of naming their own joys, bodies, hungers, fears.

I am a poet. The way I navigate, seek and understand the world is largely through lyric and poetry. I write to save. I write to carve out. I write to buzz, let go, love, push, remember. Above all, I write because in writing, I find myself asking questions, shooting arrows, forging visual and verbal connections. In other words, my brain is at its most electric when I am writing — and I am able to challenge myself to chase after hard questions, challenge myself to look and upturn more. There are plenty of rules that we’ve studied in class on how to be a “good” writer. But I’ve never been taught in a classroom that writing is, at its core, inherently mobile. Writing evolves, and asks its readers to evolve. Writing is a re-vision of the world, and, consequently, a re-moving of the world. It rattles the floors. It lifts us up.

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