During National Poetry Month in particular, it’s natural for us poets and enthusiastic readers of poetry to take stock of the state of poetry in our society today. In 1949, Muriel Rukeyser published her own thoughts on the question, in an essay collection titled The Life of Poetry. The Academy of American Poets features Chapter 1 from the book at Poets.org.
In 2014, they also posted their own inventory of poetry’s meaning, as viewed through their awareness of the public’s interface with their site and with events and resources within their sphere of influence and attention. Called “Poetry Matters,” the post quantifies poetry’s importance in a variety of ways.
From her mid-20th-century viewpoint, Chapter 1 of Rukeyser’s essay collection both agrees and disagrees with the Academy’s 2014 article “Poetry Matters.” We seem to have made some progress, or at least borne witness to some changes, in the world’s relationship to poetry over the years. It’s interesting to read, too, perspectives on the state of the world in earlier times and consider how things may have changed or stayed the same.
Where do you stand on the question of poetry’s relevance in 2018 America?
- Do you agree with Poets.org (AAP) that the digital age may have given, or have the potential to give, new life to poetry?
- Why does poetry matter to you? How do you make it part of your own life?
- And, if we should indeed try, how can we as stewards of poetry increase its value as an art form today?
Check out the articles, and feel free to comment below.
Excerpts of Chapter 1 from The Life of Poetry, shared at Poets.org:
In her 1949 book of essays, The Life of Poetry, Muriel Rukeyser
embraces poetry as an essential agent of change. The book begins
with an exploration of resistance, most notably in an essay on
“The Fear of Poetry.” In the Foreword, Jane Cooper writes:
“Why is poetry feared? Because it demands full consciousness;
it asks us to feel and it asks us to respond. Through poetry we
are brought face to face with our world and we plunge deeply into
ourselves, to a place where we sense, [as Rukeyser wrote] ‘the
full value of the meanings of emotions and ideas in their
relations with each other, and...understand...in the glimpse
of a moment, the freshness of things and their possibilities.'"
The Fear of Poetry
In this moment when we face horizons and conflicts wider than
ever before, we want our resources, the ways of strength. We
look again to the human wish, its faiths, the means by which
the imagination leads us to surpass ourselves.
If there is a feeling that something has been lost, it may be
because much has not yet been used, much is still to be found
Everywhere we are told that our human resources are all to be
used, that our civilization itself means the uses of everything
it has—the inventions, the histories, every scrap of fact. But
there is one kind of knowledge—infinitely precious, time-resistant
more than monuments, here to be passed between the generations
in any way it may be: never to be used. And that is poetry
It seems to me that we cut ourselves off, that we impoverish
ourselves, just here. I think that we are ruling out one source
of power, one that is precisely what we need. Now, when it is
hard to hold for a moment the giant clusters of event and meaning
that every day appear, it is time to remember this other kind of
knowledge and love, which has forever been a way of reaching
complexes of emotion and relationship, the attitude that is like
the attitude of science and the other arts today, but with
significant and beautiful distinctness from these— the attitude
that perhaps might equip our imaginations to deal with our
lives—the attitude of poetry.
What help is there here?
Poetry is, above all, an approach to the truth of feeling,
and what is the use of truth?
How do we use feeling?
How do we use truth?
However confused the scene of our life appears, however torn we
may be who now do face that scene, it can be faced, and we can
go on to be whole.
If we use the resources we now have, we and the world itself may
move in one fullness. Moment to moment, we can grow, if we can
bring ourselves to meet the moment with our lives. . . .
In speaking about poetry, I must say at the beginning that the
subject has no acknowledged place in American life today. . . .
Compare this perspective (much more available at the web page) to the brief 2014 Poets.org post that includes a list of poetry-related statistics as of four years ago: “Poetry Matters.”
What do you think?
- Does poetry matter?
- If it certainly does, then how does it matter to you?
- How do you think it matters to the country or the world?
- Should it matter more than it does? Why or why not?
I encourage you to ponder and share however you choose. Some ideas: Write your own blog post, comment through social media, write a poem about it, do some further research, or some combination of these.
As always, again, you’re welcome to post in the comments.