Poetry of witness presents the reader with an interesting interpretive problem. We are accustomed to rather easy categories: “personal” and “political” poems— the former calling to mind lyrics of love and emotional loss, the latter indicating a partisanship that is considered divisive, even when necessary. The distinction between the personal and the political gives the political realm too much and too little scope; at the same time, it renders the personal too important and no important enough. If we give up the dimension of the personal, we risk relinquishing one of the most powerful sites of myopia, an inability to see how larger structures of the economy and state circumscribe, if not determine, the fragile realm of individuality.
We need a third term, one that can describe the space between the state and the supposedly safe havens of the personal. Let us call this space “the social.”
– from the “Introduction” to Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forché