the importance of poetry

It may be the cruelest month, but it’s also National Poetry Month.

Readings echo across the continent (make sure you go to that link above to find out where they are in Canada) and people who live and breathe the written word blog about the importance of poetry and why it matters.

To American poet Robert Peake, poetry is one of those noble causes that get a month dedicated to them lest they be buried beneath the everyday drone of bad news, bitchy comments on who wears what and all sorts of noisy video games. 

Poetry, he says, is a bit like taking our vitamins. We don’t enjoy it. We do it because we should. Or, rather, all too often, we think about doing it and then forget.

Once upon a time, poetry, with its sharply focused lens pointed squarely at human ills and societal chasms, was a necessity, a common discourse. These days, however, it’s simply not. Ignored and unappreciated, the poetic form is “an awful lot harder to sell than medicine or candy,” says Peake. Having published a collection of poetry, I can attest to that last part. Until some film studio buys the rights, I’ll just have to survive on celery and thin cuts of tofu. That’s what keeps me going anyway.

But in what has become regular work for me for Take Note, the front-of-the-book section of The Writer, I recently came across an interesting development in the world of poetry that will, I hope, do what vitamins are intended to do: instil some health in an otherwise ailing people. 

These people being the ones who define Muslims and Arabs using only one word: terrorist.   

To be released in August 2007, the book Poems from Guantanamo: the Detainees Speak is being edited by attorney Marc Falkoff. Some two dozen poems are in the book, all by former inmates and current residents of the famous American detention centre in Cuba.

The poems give a unique view of who these men are – full of disillusionment with America as a beacon of human rights and hope that God will help them, says Falkoff. “What you don’t see much of is rage or hatred,” he says.

In one poem Ibrahim al Rubaish talks to the sea surrounding his prison, ending with “boats of poetry on the sea; a buried flame in a burning heart”.

For him, poetry is much more than vitamin. It is a transferential force, a way toward freedom.

Hopefully many, many people will read this book and find the same thing: a way out of the prison of today’s assumption that the other with the dark face can only be evil.   

This is why poetry matters.     

2 Responses to the importance of poetry

  1. jason April 12, 2007 at 6:18 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, have enjoyed reading the posts. I feel that looking at poetry as medicine is a very interesting and inspiring way to see it.

  2. Robert April 12, 2007 at 11:22 am #

    Thanks for the link, Lauren – and more importantly, the thoughtful response. I personally relate to poetry as necessary medicine, and wrote a little just last night about how and for what I think poetry can be an antidote. Certainly the bigotry and hatred that has eroded our notions of human rights and individual freedom falls in that category as well.

I would love to hear what you think!

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