Why Poetry Matters // Repost from my work with UntitledTown
When offered the chance to write about why poetry matters, I jumped at it – because poetry matters to me: as a writer, as a reader, as a teacher, as a living, breathing human being trying to make sense of the world around me and the world inside of me. So this would certainly be a fun and easy task, right?
But the moment I sat down to put together my thoughts on the topic, panic set in. Quickly. Because how does one put into words why poetry matters – and in under a thousand words, even? Well, this one, after staring down the intimidation of that blinking cursor for far too long, reached out:
“My initial reaction to that question – “why poetry matters?” – is to bristle a little bit at the premise, that poetry is in need of defending. For initiates, people who have discovered the pleasures of poetry, its value is implicit. It’s an unquestioned presence in their lives.” ~ Casey Thayer, Self-Portrait with Spurs and Sulfur (Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series, 2015) and Rational Anthem (Miller Williams Poetry Prize, 2022)
“To me, poetry serves as a way to communicate those things that are buried inside that conventional prose can’t reach. It’s the electricity of words and sound and space. It’s the feeling of touching a lover’s hand for the first time, or the last. It means I can say the phrases that sound insane but mean the world to someone.” ~ Brian Baumgart, Rules for Loving Right (Sweet Publications, 2017)
“In my early twenties, I sort of woke up and looked around my life – with two young sons, and a partner who was all wrong for me – and realized I was utterly lost. I was staying up nights writing terrible rhyming poems in a brown recliner by one dim light. I had no idea then that I was trying to save my life – that I was climbing my way back to myself. For the first time in years – maybe in my entire life – I was tending my desire to ask questions and to move forward – to live.” ~ Lisa Fay Coutley, In the Carnival of Breathing (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), Errata (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015), and Tether (Black Lawrence Press, 2020)
“Poetry allows us to speak and communicate some of the most emotional parts of life in a compact way that reaches all kinds of people. It crosses the boundaries of culture, gender, race, religion, class, and belief. It gives us a glimpse into the realities of one another.” ~ Heather A Johnson
The thing is, poetry matters. It matters to those trying to figure out who they are. It matters to those trying to make sense of current events or sense of their individual pasts. It matters to those trying to find their voice, their community. It matters to the Syrian refugees (original link is broken). It matters to the South Africa’s Struggle Poets. It matters to the youth learning about language and culture. It matters to the spoken word movement that has turned poets into rock stars, poems into things that go viral, and readers into groupies who mouth the words like song lyrics – it matters because it brings people together with art in a time where the world can feel so absolutely isolating.
Today, poetry has many faces, allows any who wishes to join in. It allows freedom for those who need to let their voices romp but also structure for those who require it. Poetry connects people through shared experience and allows windows into difference. It is witness. It is history. It is adventure. It is safe space and terrifying territory all at once. Poetry can be a subtle conversation. It can be a rally cry. “Poetry,” Thayer states, “is a medicine. For some, creative expression is the only platform available to them to work out questions, especially questions of identity and selfhood. In this way, it’s therapeutic.”
So why does poetry matter?
Simply put: because we need it to.
Each week, I’ll be sharing a poet whose work I enjoy and admire. In some instances, I’ve had the privilege of hearing them read their work in public. This is not the case with Rudy Francisco (yet, anyway), but I’ve been a big fan of his poetry (as many have) for some time. Francisco has a way with words that is intoxicating. He can take a simple news article and turn it into a thing of beauty. Don’t believe me? Then listen to this and this. I’ll wait.
See what I mean? I can’t recommend Francisco enough. He is definitely someone to study. And even if you “don’t like poetry,” he’s someone to listen to.
You can find links to his books (No Gravity, No Gravity Part II, Helium, and I’ll Fly Away) on his website, as well as fall down a rabbit hole of his poetry performances on YouTube. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.