Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day Three - Why Poetry Matters? Pleasure v.s. Purpose

This year I'm trying something new on We Convince By Our Presence. Every few days I'll take a break from presenting new poems and essays to share an interesting (and hopefully thought-provoking) question relating to poetry. Starting us off, here's a question I've raised before and continues to be worthy of discussion: Why does poetry matter?

Here are two starkly different arguments for why poetry matters:

"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." --- Dana Gioia

"A poet's work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep." --- Salman Rushdie

Dana Gioia argues for the sheer pleasure of poetry. He cites children who clamor for their favorite nursery rhymes and the happiness we feel listening to beautiful words. Salman Rushdie takes a more purposeful approach. Rushdie believes that poet's have a responsibility to keep the world around them just and vigilantly aware of notable conflicts and threats. Both of these writers are correct in their assessments, but I think that's the beauty of poetry: it is an all-encompassing art form that allows the silly and the serious to exist together, peacefully, in the same world of poetry.

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