As people across the country flock to their local poll locations to vote in the presidential election, it’s difficult not to think of the broader implications of the election: how we interpret certain rights and responsibilities, how we understand the truth of the issues, how we may hold ourselves accountable as citizens in a democracy, and how we may define America—the political and the personal, the historical and the current.
“Let America be America again,” Langston Hughes famously proclaimed in his poem of the same title. With its complexities and multiplicities, America has never contained just one story. In 1956, future President and then-U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy said, “If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place to live.” Today, then, of all days, we hope for this brand of cross-sectional discourse, that we will be able to find through poetry a language that addresses all that it means to be American, to be human, and to be living in the world today.
In this video, in which Chancellors Juan Felipe Herrera, Jane Hirshfield, and Naomi Shihab Nye discuss the civic responsibility of the poet, Hirshfield says, “When you’re asking what is the role of a poet in a society, in a culture, in a country, in a community, it is to respond in a way that only poetry can.”
This Election Day, we’re providing a selection of poems that we hope can respond in that way only poetry can. Browse these poems and watch the full video at the links below, and don’t forget to vote today.