Poetry Matters

April 19, 2015

“. . . when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle class, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy.  A tough life needs a tough language — and that is what poetry is.  That is what literature offers — a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place.  It’s a finding place.” —  Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Crossed tulips

Crossed tulips

I graduated in 1976 with a liberal arts degree in English literature, and pretty much all of my adult life the value of this degree has eroded.  It seemed to me that the 1980s began the rejection of all values other than money, and now our culture defines success by one’s monetary and material wealth.  Someone like me, who is not naturally inclined to math, economics, sciences, engineering or technology, but who prefers the arts, philosophy, the humanities feels like a misfit. But when I look back on my life, I know I have been saved by reading.  Books are my “finding place.”  In the words of Lynda Barry, books have given me a world to “dwell and travel in.”

From Lynda Barry's "What It Is"

From Lynda Barry’s “What It Is”

From Lynda Barry's "What it Is"

From Lynda Barry’s “What it Is”

Poetry matters.  Literature matters.  Art matters.  Beauty matters.  They are priceless.


8 Responses to “Poetry Matters”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    All of what you say is true. I don’t disagree one bit about the value of books, poetry, or the liberal education.

    On the other hand, it isn’t only a degraded, money-hungry culture that is eroding all that. The number of colleges and universities that have given themselves over to “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces,” “political correctness,” and the banning of anyone (faculty, speaker, or staff) with whom they disagree are doing as much or more to turn universities into objects of scorn.

    If education is degraded today, it’s the educational institutions who have aided and abetted it by infantilizing students and watering down their curricula.

    OK. I’ll stop. Well, except to add — all of this would be nearly unbearable to me, were it not for the fact that I have reading, writing, and discussion to keep me sane!

  2. robert okaji Says:

    Poetry has taught me patience and nuance, the power of precision and that of implication.

  3. Anne Timlick Says:

    Your heartening message reverberates in me- and I’m sure for many others.

  4. Alethea Eason Says:

    Reblogged this on The Heron's Path and commented:
    A friend sent this to me. I found myself nodding my English major head as I read it.

  5. Alethea Eason Says:

    I received this from a friend and i resonate very much with what you have written and the examples you offer…graduated in 1978 as an English/Religion major…and not a techie. It has been reading and writing that has sustained me through the years…teaching these things to children because that is who I am. I hope younger people who find these areas their strength can find their way through the world that rewards the “harder” skills…I mean this metaphorically (but in my case literally too)…more and more.

  6. Last week, at our co-op gallery a member–after completing her shift–arrived home to discover the mortal accidental farm accident of her life partner of 44 years. The only true instrument of comfort able to ever-so-gently begin to adequately address the enormous loss and despair is poetry. Poetry has the capacity to turn mere words into clusters of feeling that transcend language and take on the quality of a much-wanted/needed/sought after embrace. The poem “Darkness” by Dr.Kirsti A. Dyer does this for those who grieve.

    As humans, we know from early years onwards that there will be an end for us and those we know. We know this. Yet we live as though it will never happen. And when it does, we fumble for what to say, and end up hearing the shallow phrase ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ fall from our lips. Truly poetry has a calling–an ordained quality–to speak to those who have lost all hearing, feeling, seeing, desire to live, and are trapped within the fog of grief. And only poetry knows how to do this deeply, gently, thoroughly.

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