The Politics of Poetry

Poets Reginald Dwayne Betts and Clint Smith speak at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Growing up, teacher and poet Clint Smith says he thought his parents were especially strict. He remembers one carefree night when he and his friends were playing with super soaker guns in a hotel parking lot. “Within ten minutes,” he says, “my father came outside, grabbed me by my forearm and led me into our room with an unfamiliar grip.” Smith’s father derided him for being so naive. “He said, ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t act the same as your white friends.’” 
Smith’s words are from a poem he wrote about the talk a father has with his son. His dad warned him to always keep his hands visible to others, not to move too quickly, and to take off his hood when the sun goes down. ”The realities of how I was taught to navigate the world were not the same realities and lessons that were taught to my friends who were not black,” he says.
Until the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice in 2014, Smith says he didn’t fully understand his father’s warnings. Rice, 12, was playing with a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio when police shot him. “When I heard about Tamir, I heard my parents fears,” says Smith.
Smith spoke alongside poet and author Reginald Dwayne Betts. Betts served time in prison, and yet he says the talks he has with his sons aren’t based in fear. “The threat is usually far more subtle than the bullets that bury us,” he says “The threat is about the education system, the threat is about all of the things that he can avoid because of my relative privilege despite the fact that I’ve got three felonies.”
In recognition of National Poetry Month, listen below to the entire discussion from Aspen Ideas featuring Clint Smith and Reginald Dwayne Betts, including their recitation of original poetry.

The Thinking Machine


In less than a generation, Artificial Intelligence has morphed from a science fiction-relegated fantasy to part of our day-to-day reality — enhancing our ability to learn, work, communicate, travel, and more. This summer the Festival track The Thinking Machine will explore how AI will impact our world in the coming decades. Here’s what we’re reading: The Great A.I. Awakening, Is AI Sexist?, Will Humans Go the Way of Horses?, and Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation.





New Voices Fellows Doing Crucial Work


Jamila Headley of Barbados is the managing director of the Health Global Access Project, or Health GAP, which fights for universal access to affordable life-sustaining medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS around the world, particularly in developing countries. She is one of 21 leaders from the Aspen New Voices Fellowship who will share their stories at Spotlight Health 2017. To learn more about the Fellows, click here.






Memorable Words


“This age of globalism has increased inequality and gutted the middle class across the United States and across Europe. We have to dedicate ourselves to a globalism where everybody gets to participate.” — Walter Isaacson, Aspen Ideas 2016