Abstract

“Dead Men Running” explores the frequency with which the dead win election in contemporary US politics and connects the results of these elections to the poetic trope prosopopoeia (granting a face and voice to the dead or inanimate). In recent decades readers of poetry have worked to show that poetry is deeply embedded within historical and political discourse. In this essay, and with specific attention to a poem by Lucille Clifton, “jasper texas 1998,” I focus on the ways political discourse relies on poetic tropes. The election of the dead to public office makes newly legible the poetic tropes, like prosopopoeia, that condition representative government, as one’s vote (one’s voice) is lent to another, even a deceased one. In this way, the election of the dead offers readers a chance to think differently the relation between poetry and politics. In other words, just as poetry is political so too is politics poetical.

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