Saturday, March 21, 2009

Amy King: Poetry Doesn’t Need a Defense

Poetry Doesn’t Need a Defense
By Amy King

"Poetry in motion!" "Her use of poetic license awakens the spirit…" "The hands of poetry at work …"

Whether it be about a film, book, painting, or the ballet, these oft-heard review statements have one thing in common: the knowledge that compositions revealing fresh and unusual techniques, styles, and ways of seeing are the "cutting edge" of the arts. Present a work that breaks with convention, however slightly, if it bears out beyond expectation, delights, startles, or merely unsettles the world as a static notion, then you've created the "poetic."

Making the "poetic" remains one of the highest compliments an artist can receive, and as such, every reviewer who uses the term is, however unwittingly, tapping into the pervasive power of poetry, complete in her history and certain of her future. Poetry has been with us always, and no matter what the current charts of bestselling books attest, poetry remains steadfast and elemental in our daily exchanges and on our horizons. Our ever-evolving language bears witness, and those who truly recognize poetry's power are not charmed or dissuaded by how much money pours through the business of poetry, which is a separate beast from poetry altogether.

Poetry can do a variety of things. It can commemorate an inauguration, mobilize a protest, teach a child to savor song, tempt a person to consider her neighbor, and dare another to see beyond what's known. A poem has the ability to alter a life in such subtle and overt ways that the poem must be written and come to life. No matter how "popular" poetry seems on any given day, poetry's worth is not to be measured by book copies sold or chairs filled at a public reading anymore than the power of healing can be measured by how many seated in a waiting room have been healed or by those who remain sick. The power of healing is as important and unique to each individual as it is to the masses; it cannot be reduced or quantified by numbers.

As with the power of healing, the power of verse affects persons on a singular, case-by-case basis. In other words, would you choose not to write a poem if you learned it would touch the hearts and minds of ten people instead of the entire fifty who read it? The forty who "are not moved" or "just don't get poetry" are not the poet's concern. A poet does not sacrifice the ten for capitalist measures of popularity-by-number. Within that ten, the poet may have edified a life, motivated another to help others, enabled one to see corruption, or simply helped a person appreciate what was right before him.

Poetry has always been the lifeblood of language and will continue to carry us into new ways of thinking, seeing, and being. Those who use language to merely reflect and celebrate the culture as society presents it through the mass media may never "get" poetry, but those who contemplate and are aware of how language produces meaning, those poets will use words to acknowledge change and affect it. They will reveal beauty in times of horror, find the obscure in every alleyway, backyard, and hospital corner, and move others to respond. Poets, those attendants of language, will point a finger at injustice, explore and discover the mysteries of human interaction with the universe, and make possibility sing. Their words will cut the edges and be heard by however many are willing to listen. Poets are, as Shelley put it, "the unacknowledged legislators of the world," and their continued work is all the defense poetry will ever need.

Amy King, the 2007 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere and the author of several books, including I’m the Man Who Loves You and Antidotes for an Alibi and The People Instruments, edits the Poetics List, moderates the Women's Poetry Listserv (WOMPO) and the Goodreads Poetry! Group, and teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College. Her poems have been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and she has been the recipient of a MacArthur Scholarship for Poetry. She is currently editing an anthology, The Urban Poetic.

For more information on Ms. King, go to:
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