Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Uses of Poetry

I’ve loved poetry since childhood just for the pleasure of it—the sounds, rhythms, images, stories, wordplay, not to mention its magical way of saying the unsayable, expressing the inexpressible, and thinking the unthinkable.

Studying poetry, I learned to appreciate the technical side of it, the art and craft, the virtuoso performance, the display of skill, the tricks and verbal sleight of hand that it took a trained eye to see.

As a professional in literary studies, I learned to apply every theory from psychoanalysis to deconstruction to Marxism to feminism to draw out hidden meanings and significance that only a trained mind could find. Poetry analysis was as pleasurable as working a crossword puzzle, playing a complicated hand of Bridge, or solving an elaborate code.

Yet I also learned to recognize and appreciate the power of poetry, not only to provide hours of pleasure, but also to change consciousness, to motivate and inspire, to shape attitudes, and even to influence behavior. Such power is not innocent entertainment, but a power to be understood, reckoned with, and sometimes resisted, a power calling for a critical mind as well as a strong sensibility, social awareness as well as psychological acuity.

And such skills developed and honed in the study of literature could be practically applied to the crass poetry of advertising, to political discourse, to public media and all attempts to use language with design. Practice in uncovering the hidden meanings of poetry could help one expose the hidden agendas and subliminal messages of everyday rhetoric.

From delight to enlightenment, from the sublime to the ridiculous, poetry lends itself to the full range of verbal experience.