Poetry’s Recent Resurgence & Importance
Recently, The Atlantic published an article titled “Still, Poetry Will Rise” where Megan Garber interviewed the editor of Poetry magazine asking why so many poems went viral in the wake of the 2016 election.Don Share explains “Poets are kind of like—it’s a bad metaphor, but—canaries in a coal mine. They have a sense for things that are in the air.”
With the current tension in the air with politics and concern about the unknown, Share elaborates on how poetry can help create empathy: “What poetry does is it puts us in touch with people who are different from ourselves—and it does so in a way that isn’t violent. It’s a way of listening. When you’re reading a poem, you’re listening to what someone else is thinking and feeling and saying.”‘
I found this to be true with my own students. It was sheer coincidence that I started a mini poetry unit in one of my classes immediately after the election results, but I was grateful because writing poems allowed my students–on either side of the political spectrum–a chance to voice their opinions, thoughts, and concerns in a healthy, meaningful way. We read recent poems from Amit Majmudar, Maggie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Billy Collins, Warsan Shire, and Wislawa Szymborska. Then, students wrote odes, free verse, and light rhymes about the world today–technology, politics, relationships. Afterward, a few confessed to me they felt better about writing out some of their feelings.
I shared with my students poet Dana Gioia’s opinion on the function of: “Poetry can be analyzed, but that’s not why it exists. The purpose of poetry is not to create literary criticism. It exists to delight, instruct, and console living people in the sloppy fullness of their humanity.” I would agree–in all our messy humanity, poetry offers us an outlet to share what it means to be human.
Additionally, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me about how writing poetry can help us find ourselves: “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, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my rationalisations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.”
So if you’re seeking a way to help students hone their thoughts and articulate crisp images, perhaps poetry is the vehicle.