Murray to explore connection between poets, politics

Like Mary Shelley, Joan Murray found herself inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

He didn’t inspire her to write a genre-defining science fiction novel, but he did inspire her Brown Bag, “Poets: The Unacknowledged Legislators of the World.”

Murray is the poet-in-residence for Week Five at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, and her Brown Bag will be at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. Murray plans to discuss how poets, both past and present, can influence society.

“It’s a topic dear to my heart since I believe that the arts, and particularly poetry, can play a role in changing the hearts and minds of politicians — as well as the public — on issues of national moral importance,” Murray said.

Murray said the title of her Brown Bag comes from an essay written by Shelley, who she said believed in poetry’s effectiveness as a tool in the political arena as well as something that can be aesthetically pleasing.

“Like Shelley, I believe poetry can be of use,” Murray said.

Murray said she’ll talk about poets from different times and cultures who have used their poetry to “take a stand, or to call us from a moral position, or to show us their oppression or the suffering of others.” She said she’ll particularly look at contemporary poets and their work.

“I’ll read samples of poems that are angry, accusatory or alarmed, and others that are laudatory, heartbreaking or ironically funny,” Murray said.

Murray said she’s excited about the casual format of her Brown Bag, because she knows she’d rather not “be a long-winded, esoteric bore,” and the audience can feel free to question and converse with her.

“Then it becomes a front-porch conversation, like it used to be on streets all over America,” Murray said.

Murray might be a familiar face to some of her audience — this will be her sixth visit to Chautauqua. She’s spoken on the morning lecture platform, visited as a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author for her book, Poems to Live By in Troubling Times, and has been a reader at a Sacred Song Service. Even for those unfamiliar with her, she hopes they can take appreciate the risks that poets take when they’re “moved or provoked.”

“I hope we’ll leave with open minds and hearts,” Murray said. “And I hope we’ll better understand the power of an individual voice — maybe even our own