Why poetry should matter

Read this lengthy but worthy article about poetry.

Dana Gioia’s article, Can Poetry Matter?, thinks widely about poetry and society.

But why should anyone but a poet care about the problems of American poetry? What possible relevance does this archaic art form have to contemporary society? In a better world, poetry would need no justification beyond the sheer splendor of its own existence. As Wallace Stevens once observed, “The purpose of poetry is to contribute to man’s happiness.” Children know this essential truth when they ask to hear their favorite nursery rhymes again and again. Aesthetic pleasure needs no justification, because a life without such pleasure is one not worth living.

But the rest of society has mostly forgotten the value of poetry. To the general reader, discussions about the state of poetry sound like the debating of foreign politics by émigrés in a seedy cafe. Or, as Cyril Connolly more bitterly described it, “Poets arguing about modern poetry: jackals snarling over a dried-up well.” Anyone who hopes to broaden poetry’s audience — critic, teacher, librarian, poet, or lonely literary amateur — faces a daunting challenge. How does one persuade justly skeptical readers, in terms they can understand and appreciate, that poetry still matters?

The author has two reasons that answer the question.

HT to Thomas S. Hibbs.

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

What do you think?