It’s easy to say that poetry is important, especially for writers and readers, because this is something we’re supposed to believe is as true as the blue of the sky. Yet how important is it really? In a world full of things like war, starvation, and pollution, how much difference do words make? Can a poem stop genocide? Or is that asking too much? Of course there are different levels of importance. On which level does poetry exist?
I think these things often, perhaps because I’ve spent more time than is probably healthy thinking about whether writing — not the product, but the act — is revolutionary. Sometimes I say yes and other times I say that even thinking about it makes me some sort of privileged book nerd who’s cut off from reality. I’m certain that much of this thought is inspired by Adrienne Rich, who has been one of my favorite poets for a very long time. More than any other poet, she’s the one who has made me think about words and power and what it means when those two things intersect. So I was (probably unnaturally) happy when I came across this article she wrote recently for The Guardian about the importance of poetry. I suppose it’s no surprise that Rich comes out on the side of poetry’s importance, yet it was a pleasure to read what she had to write on the subject.
There are all sorts of arguments against the importance of poetry (Rich knows them and brings them up in her article) — one of the largest being that people don’t buy, read, or understand it — yet it carries on in coffee houses and universities and on the internet. Despite its perceived uselessness in popular consciousness, good or bad, people keep writing it. Even here on LitKicks. For what purpose? There are millions of answers.
We often talk of poetry as though it were a proper noun — Poetry — a huge, abstract concept like Truth or Being. Like it is something that drives us because we are human and we must experience it because we need more proper nouns like Beauty and Art. And perhaps this is true, to some extent, but this is also why I found this passage in Rich’s article most interesting:
I hope never to idealise poetry – it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal Poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming, intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed necessity, for both Neruda and C