Why Does Poetry Matter?

When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. (John F. Kennedy, speech given at Amherst College, October 1963)

Poetry is our species’ most tried and true method to get at the in-between-spaces of being human, where understanding and transformation are born. Poetry is the language of world-changing.

To poet is a verb.*

Every civilization has found some poetic relationship to its own language–from epic chronicles to secret incantations. Every generation has carried members who cannot help but write of the world around and within themselves, using a careful attention to experience, the senses, the nagging intuitive leanings that render a path less taken. Poetry can dig its roots deep into our quietest spaces if given the right elements to grow. It pulls up the most elusive and reflects us back at ourselves.

Poetry matters because we cannot conceive of new possibilities without it. It helps us to see what is so plainly in front of us, yet so difficult for our busy eyes and hearts to actually see. Poetry knows no race, gender, class, sexual orientation, nationality, religious affiliation, or philosophical creed. It can belong to all of these and none. Poetry can inspire nationalism and topple it in the next stanza, and it forces us to see the parts of ourselves we’d forgotten or hidden away.


Poetry is hip-hop, it’s advertising, it’s Lady Gaga’s most epic performances. Poetry can (and perhaps needs to) be 3-dimensional.
Poetry is being wrist-deep in baby shit and noticing the quality of the light in those wee hours, alone, with your infant–these brief and beautiful moments wholly together, blown up sparkling and expansive, holy rhythms of parent and child as one. It’s that feeling of being trapped on a lonely island at 15 yet surrounded by faces, or the way the passage of seasons on our streets makes the chest ache as we watch the inevitable march of change–trying to hold on to a few grains, but all that sand still slipping out between fingers.


Poetry is so much more than words on a page: poetry is a way of being in the world, and when we each find our own poetic voice, however it comes to us, we are bringing some small extra bit of strength to the whole of our planet. So, please help me spread the word:
We can ALL poet.

 *Perhaps she was not the first, but this idea of poeting–for me–comes from the wondrous Akilah Oliver, whom I will probably always miss.


National Poetry Month is every April.