“The Poet as Wounded Citizen” Summary

“Our age, with its endlessly sophisticated trash, expects us to eat junk food and say thank you. The wounded poet, suffering from indigestion, may remind us that to eat such shit ultimately is an insult to our humanity.”

I found this quote in an interesting and insightful article in the December 2018 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle. It’s called “The Poet as Wounded Citizen” by Tony Hoagland, and I highly recommend you read it. It was brilliant, I think.

Hoagland’s thesis, from what I interpreted, was this:

“In the early nineteen hundreds, the canary was used as a kind of carbon monoxide detector for underground workers. When the canary stops singing and is found in a little heap of feathers at the bottom of its cage, that’s when coal miners know that it is time to get out of the mind, or to improve the air quality. To follow this analogy, when its poets stop singing-or when they start jumping off bridges-it is an indication that a civilization is in trouble.”

Poets are our warning system for a dying civilization. As long as we have poets writing, our group is safe.

Hoagland argues that everyone is wounded. Everyone has scars and suffers in some way or another. Poets are not immune to that. They aren’t above that. They are wounded in the same ways except their words spark them into action. With their wounds, they speak. Or write.

He continues to say that in this day and age of isolation and fixation on social media that disconnects us from those around us, poets are here to remind us that this isn’t healthy, and that this is a pain that we all experience and should work to avoid. He calls poets “pestering” with their reminders of this suffering and pain we feel because of isolation.

Poets are quick to tell us we’re being stupid. They’re quick to point out the ways in which we all can be doing better. We can all benefit by taking a leaf out of their book.


The Writer’s Chronicle is a publication of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

Image taken from Kudoswall.Top ten poetry contests for teens.


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