Poetry is Not a Luxury

I read a lot of poetry. I have a book of poems with me most of the time, not usually to distract me from a moment or a thought, but to give me a deeper understanding into such things that make us human. To pay attention.

The title of this post is taken from an essay by Andre Lourde:

“… poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

To paraphrase Gregory Orr, how did we get so screwed up that most people see poetry as a complex, elite art that is removed from real life? Yes, it deals with life’s complexities, and it challenges us to think and feel. But in fact it’s about being human. And about paying attention to what that means.

I Want to Write Something So Simply

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

— Mary Oliver, in Evidence: Poems

It’s also about exploring what is truly important:

“… the idea of alienation. And loss. I believe that that’s the beginning of poetry. Poetry begins with alienation, and poetry speaks against our vanishing. The lyric poem in particular seems to me to have the burden and the splendor of preserving the human image in words, as the most intense form of discourse. Poetry speaks about and against loss in its root function. I see the writing of a poem as a descent. The descent is psychological. That which is darkest in human experience. It can be in yourself, it can be in others, it can be in the death of someone you love. It’s a descent into the unconscious. You try to unearth something. You try to bring something to the light.” — Edward Hirsch

Listen to Jo Shapcott talking about the relevance of poetry today:

Allow a little poetry into your life; the words, in truth, will dance for you if you let them.


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Filed under Poems, Quotations

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