Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

What Poetry Does

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about poetry and wondering why it has so fully captured my attention. I also ask myself if it is a worthy vocation. Will it make any difference? Does it need to make a difference? Is reading or writing or thinking about poetry a valuable way to spend one's time? I find I am often quite conflicted in my answers. I wonder why I didn't fall in love with Bio-Chemistry or Agriculture or some other field with empirical, measurable, tangible outcomes. But poetry it is.

Here is the start of a list of what I think poetry (and literature) does that is worth valuing:

1. Pays attention to the world and encourages us to pay attention as well.
2. Praises & celebrates life
3. Acts as a witness
4. Portrays different perspectives
5. Challenges us to think deeply
6. Plays with language in a way that can be entertaining and delightful


Jilly said...

That is a very good list. I think of that question as well. Especially having grown up poor and blue collar...what good is it if you don't make any $$ from it.

Amy Unsworth said...

Hi Jilly,

It won't feed the children, that's for sure. But I feel that it does make me feel as if I am paying closer attention, and through that attention living more purposefully. (Of course there are plenty of other methods to achieve the same end, including many that involve religous beliefs.)

I guess it returns to the age-old questions of what should Art do & why do we value it? There is in the answers to this question something to do with "defining our humanity" (I think Scoplaw was talking about this) but that's too big of a question for right now.

LKD said...

But specifically, for you, Amy, what does poetry do for you? Can you articulate an answer? I don't think I can. I've tried. But in the end, nothing comes close to explaining my love for reading and writing of it.

While I was running today, I was thinking about the impermanence of things, specifically, of words, which bled into the larger meditation on the unreliability and/or instability of words. How I can use the word "mother" in a poem and any given reader will have his or her own individual instaneous visceral reaction to that word based on their own experience.

Good question. What does poetry do? Hmmmm.

Amy Unsworth said...

It makes me feel less alone, for one thing.

It makes me hope, laugh, cry, despair--it moves me to emotion. It makes me think, sometimes deeply, sometimes abstractly, sometimes about the play of language, other times about the narrative, or the form.

And that is only a beginning of the list.

And I like the nuances that language can contain:

Hewn, chopped, carved, etched, scratched, engraved.

I think you touch on something essential when you mention "experience" and how it influences everything we read.

I guess I want to feel that there is experience behind the poem that I am reading, though not necessarily factual/empirical "truth" but some sense of human emotion (possibly a desire for the sublime?).

And yes, it is a shield against the impermanance, isn't it? It reflects our desire to create something that says "we were here," a luminescence that people will value when we are but ash and dust.