Why it matters in a technological world
According to Tracy Smith (who gave her lecture in April 2018 as poet laureate of the United States), poetry is certainly not the language to which much commercial value has been given.
In our technology-driven world, many believe poetry has been marginalized sufficiently, driven outside the city gates, to join the ranks of the near-extinct Amur Leopard and Bornean Orangutan. Many wrongly believe poetry is dead, has little to offer us, doesn’t matter.
Perhaps it is time to look with fresh eyes at poetry.
Poetry has superpowers we often neglect:
- Poetry awakens our senses
- Frees us from the “tyranny of literal meaning”
- Assures us of the “credible reality of emotional truth.”
According to Smith, poetry can save us from “disappearing into the narrow version of ourselves” when we feel defeated or lazy or greedy.
Poetry puts us in touch with our self, our inner voice, with our souls. Poetry, through its intimate association with emotion, image, metaphor and rhythm and music, and our inborn longing for beauty and wholeness, has the ability to nurture and restore not only our emotions but the body, soul, and mind. Immersion in poetry through reading or writing impacts us profoundly.
We are surrounded by noise in our electronically-connected world—in our market-driven society—bombarded by hundreds of marketing messages every day reaching us on our handheld devices and phones, it pops up on our monitors, is laced throughout everything we watch on TV and when we travel it’s displayed on billboards next to the road, the rail, or in airport buildings. The message is clear: you need this (and this and this) in order to be complete, (in order to be happy), using language that persuades us, flatter us, and often mislead us.
On social media and online we are pushed and challenged and coaxed with an even sweeter language of persuasion—once more bombarded to like and comment and follow and share this article or post or video. It fills our days, often giving momentary color and fleeting meaning to our lives, but too often, leaving us empty, craving for more.
Technological connectivity has become a drug—leaving us often unfulfilled, ever wanting more, never reaching satiety.
But we don’t dare opt out. We’ll lose our rating, our online presence, our likes and standing, and followers.
We have become too scared to slow down. And we are surprised at how unwell and unhappy we have become.
In spite of all our technology and electronic and digital connectedness and progress, never before have individuals been so lonely, so disconnected from self and others. Depression, anxiety, unhappiness and hopelessness flourishes.
Why this apparent paradox?
How can poetry help change this slippery slope?
According to Tracy K. Smith, the strength of poetry lies in the language it recruits. Poetry:
- Fosters humility
- Supports the complexity of being human
- Commits to the lives of others
- Resists misleading quick-fixes and deception
- Offers a different value system
- Invites us to “tease out difficult-to-describe feelings”
- Utilizes language filled with color, image, rhythm, and music
- Does not try to solve or deny problems but “bear witness” to experiences
- Gives language to terror, pain, hurt, shame and regret
- Gives language to longing, beauty, and hope
Poetry makes us pause, makes us consider another experience of reality. Poetry can teach us vulnerability, empathy and a sense of curiosity. And that is not such a bad thing.
Poetry is close at hand. An excellent place to start is reading the Psalms, Job, and The Songs of Solomon in the Bible. Or, have a look at the works of Emily Dickinson.
And here are short excerpts from Tracy K. Smith’s latest collection (Wade in the Water, 2018):
The holy thinks Tiger,
Then watches the thing
Wriggle, divide, stagger up
Out of the sea to rise on legs
And tear into the side
Of a loping gazelle,
Thinks Man and witnesses
The armies of trees . . .
Garden of Eden
What a profound longing
I feel, just this very instant,
For the Garden of Eden
On Montague Street
Where I seldom shopped,
Usually only after therapy,
Elbow sore at the crook
From a handbasket filled
To capacity. . . .
Poetry has a language all its own. It is filled with superpowers for us to explore.
Although poetry is not the language we live in, by making it part of our lives, we can allow it to teach us vulnerability and humility, and, in the process, fill our lives with vibrant color and meaning. It can be a remedy for many ailments.
Call to Action:
Share with us who your favorite poets are and what reading (or writing) poetry does for you?
A somewhat different version of the article will also appear on Medium.com.
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