On the Relevance of Poetry

September 1, 2010

I must admit that I am deeply moved by the arguments posited in Adrienne Rich’s What I Found There. Rich reminds us to be careful what we wish for. While many poets, today, lament the perceived impotence of poetic forms, most would probably not feel comfortable in a society where writing poetry could lead to internment in prison or a mental hospital, and even death. And yet, this is the price some have paid, for popularity among the common public, in non-democratic societies.

Dana Gioia argues in his essay, Can Poetry Matter?, that the very freedoms of which we are so proud, (Those that enable free trade and relatively free speech, without fear of reprisal) are at least partially responsible for the public’s loss of interest in poetry. He points to the political and economic climate, referring to the close involvement of academia and the rewards system that permeates the university.   He goes on to blame the close subculture of poetry, mentioning among other things, loss of the critics’ voice.

I do not, however, believe that academia is solely to blame for poetry’s downfall, but that the decline is more closely linked to Adrienne Rich’s argument. As a group, American’s are spoiled. Although, we can say what we like without fear of reprisal, we have lost sight of just how precious that right is. Likewise, as Gioia suggests, we take our poetry and our critic’s voice for granted. Rather than say and print that which is necessary we succumb to the free market pressures of our society, leaving behind a wreckage of barely recognizable self- congratulatory propaganda.

Which leads to Rich’s most important arguments, “We must use what we have to invent what we desire” (215). “A revolutionary poem will not tell you who or when to kill … It reminds you … where and when and how you are living and might live __ it is a wick of desire. .. A revolutionary poem is written out of one individual’s confrontation with her/his own longings … in the belief that its readers … deserve an art as complex, as open to contradictions as themselves” (241). This desire, then, to create a complex and contradictory art that relates common humanity is what will continue to hold poetry in a place of relevance within society and within the hearts and minds of its readers, despite any monetary value, large or small, that our free-trade economy chooses to place upon it, now or at anytime in the future.

Works Cited
Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture. Saint Paul: Graywolf, 1992. 1-21.

Rich, Adrienne. What I found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics. NV: ww.Norton, 1993.
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