Does Poetry Matter

It's funny because this question has been asked for years. David Biespiel just wrote an essay in POETRY about how poets aren't political enough, which made me laugh because in 2002, poets were being called "too political" as they began to write response to the war and Bush's America (as England loved to call us for those 8 years).

I had a poem published in Sam Hamill's Poets Against the War anthology and remember one review that called us, "A plague of poets..." (which is always good for one's ego.) At that time there was Poets for Peace and other anti-war, pro-peace groups made of poets. If I'm remembering right, I am pretty sure the response was, "What can poetry do? Go back to writing about lilacs and egrets, your emo poems."

I guess for me, the question is why ask the question? Does the question "Does poetry matter?" matter?

I recommend reading both articles if you are interested in this discussion:

There's an interesting blog post in the NY Times Book Section called "Does Poetry Matter?" (There are some great lines in this about poetry such as: I think American poetry has gotten what it’s deserved. And, uh, it’ll come awake again when poets start speaking to people who have to pay the rent.

This Land Is Our Land by David Biespiel : Poetry Magazine [article/magazine] (David Biespiel's concern that poets aren't political active enough.)

Here's the response I wrote on the NY Times Book blog--

I think the issue is that the question, "Does poetry matter?" has never mattered.

It's kind of like asking, "Does the blue sky matter?" because to the people who are gazing up into the sky and saying, "This is the most remarkable day," it does matter. And to the people who are rushing to work & lost in their iPhones, it doesn't.

Two different focuses, two different passions.

Would we ask, "Does the ballet matter?" "Does the opera matter?" "Does the indie play matter?". It all matters. It all matters to some.

Does the blue sky matter? To me it does, as does poetry.

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And actually, people's comments to the blog post are just as interesting as the post itself. I forgot how many cynical folks (and just plain downers) there were out there who believe "Poetry died after Wordsworth..." and "there's no good writing out there..." but there is also the hopeful who see poetry as their bread and water of life.

I think it's good to hear the cynics and the downers, but not invite them to your parties.


  1. Funny you should say that; I'm a combination of the two.

    There will always be good writing out there; some might see a single piece of writing as simply decent, others as terrible, and others as amazing.


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