What’s so special about poetry?

A poem begins as a lump in the throat – Robert Frost

book spine poetry

Once again I  feel drawn to share some of Anne Rennie’s writings with you from her book The Secret Garden of Spirituality. This one is about the value of poetry. So many of us bloggers dabble in writing poetry. We read or follow poets  like S Thomas Summers who paints the most amazing pictures with his words. Or Jane Basil who shares life’s pains and challenges – and sometimes takes time to just revel in the joys of playing with words. Or Candice Louisa Daquin whose every word packs a punch as she passionately gives voice to  the voiceless.

So what is the purpose of poetry?  Why read it?  Why write it?

This is what Ann Rennie has to say:

“British novelist Kingsley Amis asked: ‘Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart? Or squash it flat?

National Poetry Week was celebrated recently with barely a twinge of interest, so perhaps it is timely to consider the place of poetry in the 21st century. Does it still have a place in a world that so often weeps? Can poetry, in the mere arrangement of its words, offer solace and hope?

Can it reset the human heart? In our rush to embrace all things technological and text-y, have we lost touch with the slow joys of poetry, the rhapsodic ruminations on the page, the words on wings that deify the daily? If we have, then things are bleak indeed. For poets have much to say about what it is to be human. Their words crystallise the lumpy images of discontent, the heartburn of betrayal, the burlesque banquet of human folly. Poets are not new Age spin-doctors with media degrees who manipulate words to importune and mask. Instead they quietly ask the philosopher’s questions and hold a mirror to our lives. They craft their words with care , letting each poem set sail upon the strange currents of the human heart.

If we do not read – or listen – to poetry we deny ourselves a great pleasure. We deny ourselves the thrilling eavesdropping that reveals the secret, splits open the soul, unleashes the imagination.

We may hazily remember the poems of our past: Wordsworth and his daffodils; Alfred Noyes and his highwayman, forever ‘riding, riding, riding’; Shakespeare and his sonnets; Keats and his odes. Perhaps there were times when we were subjected to the drowsy frowsy poems Byron so ridiculed., the poems of verbal excrescence and rampant vocabulary. Yes, there are minor poets for good reason.

In celebrating poetry we acknowledge the gift of the classics. We also realise that poetry is not the preserve of an educated elite. Poetry should be heard on the factory floor, not just in the raunchy limerick but in sensitive political comment. It should be heard and read in cottages and convention centres, in great gathering spaces and the small rooms of boarding houses.

If we deny poetry in our lives, we lose the silken skein of wonder, the embroidered images of delight.

We lose also the voices that tell it how it is, the voices of reason, the voices of doom. Wilfred Owen, the war poet, wrote that ‘all a poet can do today is warn.’ Sometimes a poet’s insights can unravel the awkward or articulate the distressing. When the world is ailing, faltering, the poet’s obligation is to sound the voice of concern. John Fitzgerald Kennedy noted that ‘when power corrupts, poetry cleanses’. Poetry enables us to wash the dirt off, to come clean.

A poet’s job is to raise questions and make observations about the human condition. Australian poet Bernard O’Dowd said that a poet’s function was ‘to chart the day and make it habitable’. Sometimes a poem can make us change course, make us reconsider where we stand or what we stand for.

In a world of technological gluttony and cyber surveillance we need the quiet moments of solitude to take us back to our unaccessorised, simply graced selves.

Whether a poet bicycle-pumps or squashes the heart is not the issue. That he makes us look into our own hearts is.”

© Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace

Peace starts with good deeds
like taking trash and
opening the door for old people.
–Jamien Alexander, Poems by children

48 thoughts on “What’s so special about poetry?

  1. I’ve always wondered why your posts don’t appear in my reader and I find my way here through the comments. I’ve just learned I’ve not been following though I thought I was! You raise some good questions here – I’m imagining flash fiction and prompt poetry in 140 characters in the Twitter world.

    1. I find the WP gremlins sometimes play havoc with follows and the like 😦 I’m not familiar with Twitter at all apart from knowing there is that limit.Those kinds of constraints force succint messages and creativity – kinda like Trump running the government through his tweets 🙂

      1. I just went over there to see how many characters it does allow – and discovered that I’d loads of notifications I didn’t know anything about, but it was the retweeting of some of my blog posts. I have WP set up to post on Twitter and Facebook too. Wonder if they are actually read?

      2. I have mine set up to post on FB too – and wonder the same thing, although I do see a definite pattern in the number of ‘looks’ I get on certain types of posts. Hardly ever any likes, shares or comments though.

      3. Yes, same here, I was surprised that Twitter has more reach despite my complete neglect of it, compared to FB where I do at least try to pop in once in a while.

      1. Mary Oliver – Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winning Poet
        maryoliver.beacon.org/ She is about our age. I think you would enjoy reading her poetry.

  2. Agreed – on all fronts. I didn’t like poetry much until I got into my 20s and took a poetry class – in Spanish – and decided that I liked it. I’d been so intimidated by it – even though I consider myself a literary and even creative person.
    Now, I admit I don’t read it enough. Because I always think about what I’m supposed to take away from a poem. Some DO really speak to me. And I find myself writing poems on occasion, too. I have no idea what I’m doing, though. I just write what comes to mind, not giving much attention to meter and rhythm – mostly because I don’t know much about it. So…I’ll just write what comes to mind, and changing words to make things sound more fluid…even so…I always wonder if I’m too methodical. Ah, well…painting and drawing and freewriting seem to come easier than poetry, but I still feel drawn to it. 🙂

    1. I think writing from theheart, or ‘whjt comes to mind’ is just perfect. Of course there is a time and a place for the more formal too but like you, I don’t understand all the subtle nuances of that. Free form poetry is still poetry – keep on writing !

  3. I have often worried, that poetry was becoming less appreciated. I fear it is being replaced with a lot of less authentic practices. Things that do not require an iota of deep thought. Oh I hope we do not lose the appreciation of poets and their enchanting skill

  4. Poetry is the unfettered emotional response to something given voice. For me, at least. And I could not live without it. Nothing, but nothing compares to the joy of immersing in beautifully constructed words and feeling them perculate the soul.

  5. Jumped over from the Senior Salon
    What a lovely post, Raili. This jumped out at me particularly, “Poets are not New Age spin-doctors with media degrees who manipulate words to importune and mask.” Yes, poets have kissed the philosopher’s stone and keep the quieter joys alive in our souls. Loved the Kennedy quote too.

    Today, I have observed, many who would otherwise be poets in a more traditional manner now set their political commentary to music – often lost in the beat to all who don’t pay careful attention. Twitwits miss a lot, regardless, IMHO – only time will tell what they are doing to their [lack of] brain development. I didn’t engage before it became a campaign platform for multiple rants and accusations, and I doubt now I ever will.

    BEAUTIFUL share this week. Thank you.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    1. Thank you so much Madelyn. You’re right about the music drowning out the words. I’m sure there are some lovely ones in there if you could just hear them!
      I find it interesting how DT seems to be running the country through Twitter – certainy creative and new!

      1. That’s one way to put it. Though I might edit the first part a bit to “attempting to mislead and manipulate the country …” — and I’d probably replace interesting with disgraceful.

        Not a fan, in case that wasn’t already obvious.

      2. Where running this country into the ground is concerned? Oh yeah!

        You should hear my language with like-minded friends when I’m not being recorded for posterity (which means practically any time I’m not speaking to someone I hope will join the cause – I do read the stuff I write lol). 🙂

        I’d hate for my language to make anybody feel like they must dig in and defend, but I’ll never say anything positive about that man/child because I don’t believe there is much of anything positive TO say.

  6. I love Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and for a good laugh I always go to Pam Ayres.

  7. What a beautifully written piece from Ann Rennie! I was enchanted.
    Thank you for those kind words, and the link to my blog, Raili.
    I’ve had a heavy couple of days – I think I’ll take some time off to check out the other links xxx

    1. My pleasure, Jane. When I first posted it I linked to your HomePage. Only to discover (yesterday) that if you do that the site owner does not get a notification. It has to be a pingback to a post on their site. Live and learn ! I hope you can relax and recoup xx

  8. Very well written and insightful. Thanks for this great post. Happy to have stumbled across it.

  9. I think poetry chief job, it’s unique selling proposition in the language of commerce, is to express with words the same something that we get from music. Since it uses words, it can have meaning in ways that music itself cannot; but because it’s musical, it can also enter our being before it’s fully understood, and that full understanding is not necessary even in the end for their to be delight in it.

    I’ve been practicing the combination of music with poetry as a focus this past year, as as work with poems that are not immediately clear in their meaning, the explicit music I’m using with the poem may allow one to relax and not worry that you will fail some exam that will be given on the poems “secret meaning.”

    William Butler Yeats thought the secret of not having the music subsume the poetry was to chant the text instead of singing it (as was, and is, common in art song). I’ve tried to perform that idea in several different ways. Rap seems to work with the same rules: the serious stuff is rapped, the decorative or refrains may be sung.

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