Why Poetry Matters

Poetry and writing poetry is only as difficult as we make it. There are so many myths and stereotypes associated with poetry that we can hardly see it for what it is. Poetry is little more than the singing of a story, moment, or subject. Poetry has been around for as long as there have been people sitting around fires singing, chanting, and telling stories of heroism, loss, and love. Poetry matters and is alive and well in our contemporary lives, even more than we may realize.

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.—Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poetry’s close cousin is music. In fact, many song lyrics fall under the category of poetry. Poetry and song have much in common: rhythm, elevated or condensed speech, images and metaphors, and often stories. There are ballads in both poetry and folk music alike, and now rap is a clear crossover between the two arts. Rap music and poetry slams have helped bring poetry further into the mainstream.

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.—Edgar Allan Poe

Yet many if not most Americans say they don’t get poetry—what it is, what it does, why people read and write it, and what function it serves in society. A huge reason they don’t get it is because there are so many other means and modes of entertainment and self-fulfillment out there. Another big reason is that we’ve inherited myths and stereotypes that we cling to about poetry and poetry writing. Schools have perpetuated the idea that poetry contains a meaning that needs to be extracted, so it becomes a substitute for the poem itself, as if it were merely a matter of solving a problem and, now that the problem has been solved, we can forget about it. Another issue is that analyzing poetic elements becomes more important than experiencing the poem itself. Other views include the idea that reading and writing poetry is a waste of time, doesn’t make money, is self-indulgent, or is a flowery feminine art.

If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.—Jim Morrison

Poetry, first and foremost, is meant to be experienced. How does it make us feel? What images does it evoke? How are we swept up by the language, sounds, and rhythms? How do our own lives relate to a poem or poet? In what way does a poem stir us to express ourselves? Poetry is a more bodily experienced art than we know. Not only does it make our imaginations flare, it makes our senses jump, the way music does.

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.—Emily Dickinson

What we also forget is that almost all religious and spiritual scriptures were composed as poems, as verse. Advertising and speechwriters use many of the same techniques that poets use. Snippets of poetry accidentally tumble out of our mouths. We can’t help it. There are countless words and expressions that poets have created. Shakespeare gave us hundreds of new expressions that we still use today and generally don’t know it.

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.—Audre Lorde

Poetry writing is, at best, a spiritual act, one in which the poet seeks to discover and express meaning using our richest, most beautiful, most universal medium: language. Poets strive to explore the possibilities of language just as painters explore line, shape, and color and just as architects explore utility, grace, and strength in building. The added beauty is that reading and writing poetry is virtually free. We can check out poetry from the library and scratch poems on recycled napkins and, in so doing, make profound discoveries about our selves, life, love, the world, language, relationships, or nature.

To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes; to hear it is to see it with our ears.—Octavio Paz

Without the art known as poetry, our world would be infinitely poorer, just as it would be if we didn’t have painting or music. Poetry and writing poetry matters because it involves our finest breaths of language—phrases, lines, images, rhythms, and subjects by which we can sing the truths of our heart.

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion collected in tranquility.—William Wordsworth

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.—T. S. Eliot

Poetry: the best words in the best order.—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.—Allen Ginsberg

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3 thoughts on “Why Poetry Matters

  1. Beautifully written, Rick! Every school should have access to this blog post in order to better understand the value of poetry. I love the quotes you included. Looking forward to your reading at Good Shepherd next Tuesday, the 18th at 7pm. -Fran

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