Poetry: What It Does and Why We’re Taught to Ignore It


My book club has been reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s not an easy book to read, despite the perfect prose that shines on nearly every page, but I believe that it is, as Toni Morrison says, “required reading.” Interestingly, one of the subjects that Mr. Coats discusses is poetry:

Poetry aims for an economy of truth — loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions — beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was, ultimately, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with he cold steel truths of life.


[My] gnawing discomfort, the chaos, the intellectual vertigo was not an alarm. It was a beacon.

Reading that caused me to wonder if it perhaps explains what Muriel Rukeyser said in The Life of Poetry:

Poetry is not; or seems not to be. But it appears that among the great conflicts of this culture, the conflict in our attitude toward poetry stands clearly lit. There are no guards built up to hide it. We all see its expression, and we can see its effects upon us. We can see our own conflict and our own resource if we look, now, at this art, which has been made of all the arts the one least acceptable.

Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even Ignore with the indifference which is driven toward the center. It comes through as boredom, as name-calling, as the traditional attitude ofthe last hundred years which has chalked in the portrait of the poet as he is known to this society, which, as Herbert Read says, “does not challenge poetry in principle it merely treats it with ignorance, indifference and unconscious cruelty.

Picture of Minerva, Goddess of Poetry, found here.


One response to “Poetry: What It Does and Why We’re Taught to Ignore It

  1. Pingback: Linkage: Meditation, focus, and poetry || Spiral Nature

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