Looking back on the past year, it’s hard to believe how many changes the country went through in such a short period of time. The turmoil, though, gave rise to powerful responses across the arts, with poets in particular raising their voices in ways that have resonated politically and emotionally. The Aspen Institute served as a performance space for many of these artists — below are some of the year’s most powerful poems from Institute events.
Pages Matam on art and self-love
“Art frees the people,” Matam said when we interviewed him at this year’s State of Race Symposium. For Matam, art is his way of contributing to discussions on race and inequality. He reminds us that both art and self-love are key elements of freedom and justice, especially for people of color.
Elizabeth Acevedo on the value of teaching poetry
At the Summit on Inequality and Opportunity, Elizabeth Acevedo also affirmed poetry’s power to speak for those on the margins. She covered the immigrant experience, the casual racisms of daily life, and the healing power of creative writing. In this poem, she makes clear that teaching is more than just a job and writing is more than just entertainment. You can also watch her presentation at the summit.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez performing “Stand Up”
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a Native American environmental activist and hip hop artist, wants to empower his generation to create change. At 17 years old, he’s already spoken at the United Nations, served on President Obama’s youth council, and been featured on CNN and National Geographic. His performance and talk at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival stood out from the pack; listeners got on stage and danced as he finished his set. You can also watch his entire performance.
Patricia Frazier performing “The Ones Who Walk Away From Aspen”
Patricia Frazier, Chicago’s youth poet laureate, performed her spoken word poetry at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival. It took her only a few hours to write a poem that cut through power and racial dynamics and conveyed her struggle to find a space in Aspen as a queer person of color. “This is the Aspen Ideas Festival / I’ve been here twice / and heard little to do with the places we’ll go back to,” she said. Her callout wasn’t easy for some to listen to, but it was cogent and necessary. You can watch the full slate of poets from Aspen’s Creative Young Leaders Alliance at the Afternoon Jam Session.
Poetry can serve many purposes. This year’s artists shared their life experiences, confronted the political climate, and inspired others to foster change. We hope that next year’s poetry will be as powerful and as relevant — we’ll keep you updated.