While trying to convince a librarian to reinstate Community Poetry Circles I culled some compelling arguments, I think, about why poetry matters:

Why Poetry Matters, Pam Allyn, Contributor, Founder & Executive Director, LitWorld, at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/pam-allyn/why-poetry-matters_b_5185399.html

Poetry is how we say to the world, and to each other, “I am here.” Some of my most beloved poets — Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Billy Collins and Naomi Shihab Nye — talk about poetry as a way to document the world and our common experiences, to say what needs to be said in a direct, powerful and beautiful way… After 9/11, when poetry was flowing in a steady and necessary stream across the Internet, someone asked Billy Collins why that phenomenon was happening and he said: “Because poetry tells the story of the human heart.” Poems were the kind of urgent and comforting storytelling we needed then, and the kinds of stories we need every day… Through poetry, children find freedom to share their story in a way that feels good and is true to their own deepest selves. From urban communities to the most rural areas, we are all the same humanity: we hunger for ways to express ourselves that feel the most true, and bend to our most human voices to create new shapes in the world… Poetry can be a game-changer for struggling writers and language learners… Once liberated to express themselves in a way that makes sense to them, suddenly, they realize that their thoughts and feelings can make sense to others. A whole new pathway opens up and writers and readers, speakers and listeners speak the same language — the language of human experience.

Defining the Role of Poetry in Society: The Ongoing Conversation, by Michael Kemp

In a time in which we are taking care to emphasize traditionally underrepresented narratives of groups of people more and more, I believe it is poetry’s ability to relay awareness of experience that cements its role in society at large… Since poetry is focused on relaying experience in a highly salient way, there is great potential for it to be utilized as a means to build empathy and bridge gaps of understanding between people who come from differing backgrounds. In this way poetry can be a vehicle for messages of social justice…. [and] while poetry can be an effective means for bringing our attention towards and better conceptualizing injustices, it can also play a dual-role in helping us cope with such injustices… Unfortunately, a good number of social justice issues are not able to be solved overnight, much less within a few years. In this way, the cathartic role of poetry is even more important than a social commentary one. So perhaps there is no singular role for poetry. Rather, poetry is meant to be our companion throughout every stage of societal awareness. This is evidenced through poetry’s multi-faceted ability to inspire us to action, highlight a previously unknown narrative, make us think critically, or simply to allow us to feel our humanity.

 

The Purpose of Poetry

From the Atlantic Magazine, January/February 2006  issue

Less than a month before his assassination President Kennedy gave a speech at Amherst College in honor of the late poet Robert Frost. He emphasized the importance of the poet in American society as critic, commentator, and “champion of the individual mind and sensibility.”Excerpt from that speech reprinted here:


When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state…. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him … I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens…

close