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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Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

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The First of a Series of Completely Emotional Responses

August 30, 2010

I have not yet finished reading Dana Gioia’s essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” and already I have been moved to tears. For many years the facts of this essay have remained dormant in the back of my mind, hiding behind the towers of well-known poets and poems–all from authors long deceased not only in body, but in the minds of the majority of people, world-wide.

I have stopped my first reading to take down some thoughts. My heart has been pinned down by the enormous weight of the subject at hand–the decline of poetry in the world, but specifically America. (Even as I write this, I am reminded of poetry’s lack of place, particularly by the reports from FOX News, which have chosen to cover the trial of Paris Hilton, instead of any number of events occurring in the world of poetry today.)
While reading I have had thoughts of grand upheavals in reaction to this article–storming into the first Aubade meeting (Sept. 2 from 5-6:00 p.m.) and demanding that, not only do we go through the necessary steps to reprint this essay at the start of this Fall’s publication, but to change utterly the content of the letter from the editor at the front of the issue and instate a new policy to include critical or insightful reader-responses to the art. Instead the editor’s shout-outs to friends and praise of the work within the publication, an honest statement that not all of the art included is up to par and an entreaty for the readers to vigorously peruse the magazine and decide for themselves what earns its keep. In my dream, this all goes beautifully. Hundreds of students, teachers and those in the community who seek the Fall issue of Aubade write in to praise, to critique, to condemn, to contradict and most importantly to serve as a testament to reader’s attentive observation and interaction with the text.

All of this, whirling the activist dust of my mind into a terrific tornado, banging against the walls of my skull and begging for an explosive release of phonemic breath. And yet the pressure begins to change and I know also that, even if I burst into that meeting, waving the essay about with my hand and insisting, I most likely be asked to leave. I most likely would.
And still, I cannot help but be disturbed. I cannot help but wonder at a solution. I cannot help but hope Gioia will provide one at the close of this essay, but her title is not promising.

I’d like to talk about possible alternatives to the current method of poetic publishing and ask you all if you have any thoughts on possible solutions.
There are some big problems pointed out by this text, among them the regressive nature of the inner circle of readers, publishers and critics; the neglect of poetry by the world at large, especially the realms of media and politics; the stress on quantitative, not qualitative work by writers throughout academia; and many more, and, honestly, I don’t know what to do about them.


I just finished reading the essay and I must say, I was not disappointed. I am glad to see six tips on how to amend the crisis of poetry in our culture.
So, it is here that I would like to open the floor to other suggestions for how to amend the situation, in a similar vein as Gioia’s. Here are some of my own:

1) Memorize your favorite poems. Maybe take 5-10 of your favorite poems and dedicate the time to memorizing them. I’ve done this with only one poem in its entirety and parts of many more, but I’ve found it has added to my appreciation for the lyric qualities of the poem. Not only does this better your personal appreciation of the poem, the poet and poetry in general, but it’s also a cool thing to do on a whim for a group of people (I usually only do so for my close friends and loved ones) but every time I’ve done so it has incited a reaction at worst and at best an interesting conversation.

2) Talk to friends and family about the state of things in the world of poetry. As simple as it sounds, talking to people as if poetry were politics will, I think, increase awareness of it and, hopefully, get people to hold up higher standards for themselves. Let us not be the “jackals,” but let our “snarling” by a call, a command to the Muse for the well to fill, to be over-filled.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll add more if I think of something else.

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