Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Garden of Verse: Every Day Poets in the 'Cruelest' Month of April

           It's that wonderful time of year when people who write poetry and read it (or do either; or both) ask themselves why they do it, and perhaps not surprisingly find plenty of reasons to explain why they do. 
            April, National Poetry Month, stimulates many gardens of celebration and explanation. 
             Here's a quote from Bill Moyers' website:
             Democracy needs her poets, in all their diversity, precisely because our hope for survival is in recognizing the reality of one another’s lives.


             Moyers then quotes the poet W.S. Merwin in this statement:
Against the sybaritic images of advertising that daily wash over us, against the sententious rhetoric of politics, poetry stands as “the expression of faith in the integrity of the senses and of the imagination.” (W.S. Merwin’s description).

               Finally, he turns to Czech Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz on the dangers to free society posed by "a refusal to remember."  Memory is crucial, Moyers argues, "if a people are not to be at the mercy of the powers-that-be, if they are to have something against which to measure what the partisans and propagandists tell them today."

Hmm, what about 'today' can he be thinking about?

          The case for the civic value of poetry is also made by a story in Salon magazine by Alissa Quart, who writes that poetry can appear to be "suffocatingly personal; excessively decorative; exhaustingly bourgeois or tiringly avant-garde.  (Some of this is true, especially the bourgeois part.)"

           It's always good to hear a little constructive criticism, don't you think?
           Nevertheless, Quart argues: "Yet we shouldn’t give up on poetry, if only because we need a different public language to describe our country. Conventional public discourse is boring, too familiar and brittle: the spray-on-tan blather of pundits on CNN, the coo of commerce, the drained, template-like rhetoric of political speech."
            Some colorful language in that final sentence; I wonder if Ms. Quart has turned her hand to a little of this poetry stuff. 
             David Graham also turns to the question of poetry's value in his column "Poetic License" in the April issue of Verse-Virtual.com. The discussion here turns to the personal value. Here's an excerpt from his discussion: 

"... [M]y love of poetry grows directly from my practice of it. As with many basic enjoyments, repetition deepens rather than dulls the pleasure. That’s why I keep writing and pondering this art. In a way, it’s like the reverse of the old joke: “Why hit myself in the head with a hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop.” I keep at it because it feels so good when I don’t stop." 

             I don't think anyone is stopping. Though whether poetry is a useful weapon (or tool) in our species's struggle for survival, save democracy, combat meretricious speech, preserve societal memory, or retake language from the hands of the traders in facile, deceptive, or self-serving or merely boring wielders of our common speech -- arguably humanity's greatest strength -- remains to be seen. 
             Still, if it's 'Celebrate Poetry Month,' I'm up for the party.