Zoe Leonard on Why Her 1992 Poem “I Want a President” Stays Viral

When this astonishing image came over our email transom today, its force and clarity stopped us in our tracks. It is a poem Zoe Leonard wrote in 1992 —over twenty-five years ago — which went viral when it was released (as a page zeroxed and passed around), then transformed into a wall mural on New York City’s High Line Park in 2016, and recently sold as a limited edition print.  It continues to resonate over decades, though Leonard says its she would express its essential message differently today. The full text is below (click on it to print as a pdf).

The part we love most:

…I want someone who has made mistakes and learns from them…And I want to know why this isn’t possible..

After Leonard’s “I want a president” was made into an installation on New York City’s High Line Park nearly 25 years after she wrote it, she expressed this view of her powerful text:

I am interested in the space this text opens up for us to imagine and voice what we want in our leaders, and even beyond that, what we can envision for the future of our society.

I still think that speaking up is itself a vital and powerful political act.

…This is not a text I would write today. I don’t think about identity politics in the same way, that is, I don’t think that a specific set of identifiers, or specific demographic markers necessarily leads to a particular political position. 

….What’s going on in the text is both a real call and a metaphoric one. Yes, I want a real person in that office, someone intelligent, experienced and compassionate. But this text also asks for something beyond any one person. It is a question of power. Who has it? Who gets a voice? Why are some of us marginalized whle others are ushered in? This is a structural question. This is a conceptual question. This is a real-life question. How do we choose to govern ourselves?

Timothy Schenck

I still think that speaking up is itself a vital and powerful political act.

 

With thanks to frequent contributor Susan Dworski for throwing it over our transom

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