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Below is an excerpt from a Crisis Magazine article “Reading Poetry Will Save the World” by Auguste Meyrat, published November 13, 2021. (The article was passed to me by poet Joe Tessitore.)

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For those who missed it, October 17th was National Black Poetry Day […] It would be easy enough to joke about such a day for its obvious virtue signaling and its pitiful attempt to encourage reading poetry, but the joke isn’t funny anymore. Despite the many days and months celebrating poetry, a shrinking number of people ever bother with it. Moreover, while everyone has been laughing at these lame attempts to popularize poetry, it has gradually been dropped from English curricula at all levels. And society is all the worse for it.

Beyond the limits that a poetry-free education imposes on individuals are the limits on communities. Because the connections between citizens, neighbors, and relatives are immaterial, their strength relies on the members’ ability to transcend the material world. Without this ability, relationships and identity are tied to proximity, utility, and appearance. Communities inevitably dissolve because their members lose the capacity to recognize the deeper bonds that hold the community together.

This is what leads to cultural decay and increased social polarization. A whole generation that’s “too dumb for complex texts” but smart enough for basic literacy becomes susceptible to propaganda and memes. They internalize so many slogans and facile arguments, never realizing that they could be part of a narrative. They fall into believing crude stereotypes of the other side, never considering that human beings defy these oversimplifications. 

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While I think that this is an excellent article worth reading, it has an overarching issue. Early on it references a 2009 study on declining poetry reading. Actually, the number of poetry readers is going up, as can be seen in the more recent 2017 survey discussed here. The reason for that I cannot with certainty say. What I do know is that there has to be a distinction, which the author, Mr. Meyrat, alludes to, but doesn’t properly delineate. The distinction is that classical or traditional poetry, poetry with meter and often rhyme, is capable of appreciably benefiting people, but what does not benefit people and understandably is the subject of derision is what passes for poetry in the mainstream sense today (read more in Mr. Sedia’s excellent piece here).  Thus, a more accurate title for the Crisis Magazine piece would have been “Reading Classical Poetry Will Save the World.”

—Evan Mantyk

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5 Responses

  1. Daniel Kemper

    Great selection, great observation and real panache in your note. Thank you, Evan!

    Reply
  2. James Sale

    Thanks Evan for this; it is an excellent article and of course also a hopeful one in its premise. Like you, though, I have one or two reservations. The one that springs out at me is the, perhaps, overemphasis on the analytical side of reading a poem. I remember somebody once commenting that they had a friend who loved poetry, but real poetry, you know: free verse poetry – poetry without constraints. Asked to give an example he cited Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle …!!! The point being that this poem – so technical in so many ways – yet appears to be effortlessly not so. Whether or not, then, one knows technical ‘stuff’, the primary feature of great poetry – and good poetry too – is enjoyment. We are entertained and then we learn; the enjoyment invites us to go deeper and to work out how it is done. So, yes, great article – andBTW love its links to Robert Frost at JFK’s inauguration versus (contrastingly) the so-called poet at Joe Biden’s – and its theme is one we all need to keep going on about: (real) poetry is a restorative force for good.

    Reply
  3. Damian Robin

    I am very grateful for these positive thoughts (Evan, James, and Auguste Meyrat . Sometimes I feel like it’s PWW 1 (poetry world war 1) and I’m in a trench war-ren. Occassionally it’s okay to pop my head up outside SCP. This is one occasion.

    Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    There is no poem that will ever save the world, but it’s possible that there might be a poem that will save poetry. It’s been written many times over.

    Reply
  5. Mia

    A great article, thank you. Far more critical thinking is definitely needed.
    I think because poetry is like music and songs, the words reach others far more than mere words in prose.
    So it is not just the standard of poetry but also the songs we hear; coincidently both have been diluted and downgraded.
    Also, there might not be a single poem that will save the whole world but a whole poem may save a single world and therefore poetry may save the world,
    one world at a time.

    Reply

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