For Wednesday, February 17, 2016:
“Here’s a common complaint about poetry: It’s the oldest form of expression, but what can it do for us now, in an age of social media, Twitter, Facebook and national urgency?”
Claudia Rankin – Chancellor, Academy of American Poets, in “Citizen: An American Lyric”
This is what it can do: in a world that seems to be going the way of 140-character and instant communications, poetry will keep us grounded in the non-rational.
Note that’s non-rational, not irrational. There’s a big difference. Non-rational is the sphere of the unexplainable, of mystics, of the arts, of all that is magical and mysterious, of metaphor, of intuition. There’s a reason why poetry is the oldest form of expression. It comes from and reaches the deepest parts of us, those places that are hard to reach and explore but are just as real, in their way, as the cup of coffee on the table beside us.
In my opinion, the world needs far more poetry, far more exposure to poetry. If people would tweet poems instead of pictures of their lunch or tirades or comments about the TV show they’re watching, what might happen? If we shared more poems (our own or others’) on Facebook – big thanks to you who do! – the world would be better off.
We might not understand a particular poem, but it stays with us in a way that 140 characters don’t. As good, and sometimes important, as instant communications can be, we’ve gotten too used to the urgency, the immediacy. There’s little time to rest in the slow, measured cadence of metaphor and image (whether it’s in the words of a poem or the strokes of a painting or the steps of a dance). We don’t want to subject ourselves to the discomfort that might result if we take the time and emotional energy to dig deep.
Those of us who are fans of Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek can look to him for an example. Remember how easy it was for him to operate from his rational world of logic? How hard it was for him to reach his emotions? Aren’t we getting more and more like that?
The non-rational world is full of questions – or, at least, few certain answers – and I think that can be frightening for some people. In today’s uncertain world, I believe that’s why we’ve resorted to the noise of the immediacy that Twitter, et al, gives us.
Let me hasten to say that there’s nothing wrong with pictures of people’s food or vacations or pets, and the like. I enjoy seeing those! I just feel that our non-rational beings need a balance of poems.
Here’s something to consider: Perhaps even before April’s National Poetry Month, and along with the ‘challenges’ of a week of nature photos – there’s a reason the latter has become a popular endeavor – we can start a campaign of poetry challenges …