Why Poetry NowBy Ann Lauterbach
A friend recently handed me a bumper sticker that reads WHO NEEDS POETRY. A question in the form of a statement.
We need Poetry Now to help us process, from ecstatic to excruciating, the whole range impressions that come with the experience of passionate engagement with the world.
I want to believe that poetry can affect change—in people, in cultural practice, and in policy. But it is impossible to trace or measure whatever change we poets might be making, because the relationship between the action of writing and its effect are not one-to-one.
It may not be obvious to all at first reading, but I cannot think of any of my writing of at least the last three decades that was not inflected by the shifting currents of “the now.” Nor can I think of any time in my writing life when the question, “Why poetry?” did not arise.
At one of his weekly salons, Stéphane Mallarmé is reported to have said: “There is only one man who has the right to be an anarchist: me, the Poet, since I alone make a product that society does not want, in exchange for which it does not give me anything to live on.”
Last week our country experienced a horrific loss in Parkland, FL. It beggars the imagination. In light of that, one might ask what the value of writing poems might be. One might ask what the value of art might be after so much wanton violence.
I’m committed to the ways in which private and public concerns intersect in poetry, the ways in which they become (even awkwardly) parallel. I am teaching a course that combines poetry and printing; students are creating poems about the birds and the landscape at Occidental college
It may sound like a cop-out, but I’m of several minds about this topic, like a tree in which there are several blackbirds. I used to feel that the extravagant claims made for poetry by Stevens and Williams, to name only two, had an ironic undercurrent of desperation.
The distinction between private and public registers has always been hard for me to find, & I think the specific logic of address often takes care of it as a non-distinction, however accidental, unknowing, or haphazard the insistence of that invented logic gives itself off to be.
I would not or typically do not separate the urgencies of the present from the qualifying aspects of memory that inflect the “now” with absences and histories or that resound with nonaligned temporalities.
Now when I turn on the radio to hear the news, I too often turn it off, unable to bear what it is I’m hearing, unable to bear my children listening. I don’t think of the silence then as a denial or a refuge—I think of it as mourning, and I think of it as attention.
Christopher Rey Pérez
Roque Dalton had to get his face cut into and reconstructed in order to evade those who were out to get him. He wrote good poems I’m still reading years after they eventually got him. He worked with collage.
These are their relics. They are all poets. They have fabrics hanging in space And lines of music without notes. This is why they stand by a door like those Who choose an aisle seat.
A recent advertising flyer from the clothes designer Eileen Fisher has the picture of a woman leaping, accompanied by the line Power Moves You. Where will it take you?