Protest poetry is any form of poetry which has, as one of its main functions, the objective of finding fault with some existing current event or circumstance. This kind of poetry often focuses on the misdeeds performed by a government upon its people. It can also be a reaction to some overriding societal ill, like war or racism. The most effective forms of protest poetry combine the qualities that make up any great poem with a genuine passion about the subject. Protest poems can stimulate a reader's interest and empathy, and sometimes spur him or her into action.
A poet may have many different functions in mind when sitting down to write a poem. The poet might be expressing love for someone else, lamenting the loss of a friend, or describing a beautiful scene. Although the topics change, all poems must have at their core something which engages the reader or listener in ways that only poetry can. Protest poetry sets all of the tools that a poet has at his or her disposal, including rhyme, metaphor, meter, vivid language, and much more, to the task of raising some sort of current issue and exposing its flaws.
In many cases, protest poetry is associated with dissatisfaction toward a specific governmental regime. Poetry need not be rigorously objective and, as such, can be utilized to show the actions of the ruling party in an unfavorable light. At times of great societal unrest, poems are often written by a single poet to reflect the views of the people at large.
Much protest poetry has also been written about more general social ills which have come to light at different periods in history. One of the most popular topics of protest poetry is war. As long as poems have been written, poets have used their skills to show the great tragedy of war and its effect on not only the soldiers involved but on all of civilization. Racism is another topic that has inspired the ire of poets for generations.
Although there can be many types of poems that are loosely classified as protest poetry, it is a genre that can be easily mishandled by less-skilled poets. Even though a poet needs to be emotionally inspired by some issue to write a protest poem, he or she cannot let those emotions overwhelm the piece: this can prevent the poem from shedding accurate light on the issue at hand. By the same token, getting bogged down in the facts of an issue can make a poem sound less like art and more like a news report.