It used to be the case that as a civilization, we circulated knowledge and amused ourselves via songs/storytelling, prayers, and speeches. Bards were hired by royalty. Religious hegemonies were feared for their formidably. Orators infused armies with motivation. Social power, as rhetorically spread, was reliant on auditory methods of idea exchange. To wit, poetry, in its many configurations, held sway as a supreme mode of relaying meaning.
Over time, the advent of the printing press downshifted collective esteem for vocalized broadcasts. Book ownership became a sign of wealth. The upper class became the literate class. Espionage among powerbrokers relied on written codes. Large quantities of the Bible were produced.
Thereafter, in the middle of the Twentieth Century, spoken language regained popularity. Mass media, especially film and television, made inroads. The rank and file aped those varieties of interactions. A few decades later, ARPANET sprouted numerous “inter-networking” protocols, eventually becoming the commercialized, global system known as the “Internet.” Concurrently, poetry was “reinvented” in lots of shapes, including hip hop and poetry slams. Orality was again all the rage. In universities, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, professors worked hard to convince students that despite the fact that a mastery of acoustic performance was worthwhile, written prowess was also needed.
Ultimately, mass media lost its attractiveness because of the pull of convergent media. Qualities such as rhythm and rhyme once more became significant to the give-and-take of intentions. Whereas some of the newer modalities, such as email, fax, and IMing, remained written, others, such as IP telephony, of which VoIP is a subset, and video-sharing, as seen in configurations like YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, were entirely or mostly viva voce. Suddenly, punctuation and spelling seemed less important than articulation and timbre.
During the 1990s and the early part of the Twenty-First Century, public speaking courses became mandated on most college campuses. Old-fashioned orality became communication’s “sexy.” Anew, poetry, long considered as oral form of communication even when transcribed, appealed to the proletariat.
These days, wars, offices, and the authority of particular spiritual organizations are gained or lost all over the electromagnetic spectrum; neither oral nor written dispersals of accepted wisdoms any longer hold a strategic monopoly. Nonetheless, information collaboration and entertainment dissemination increasingly taking place via the Web’s countless pages. In the publishing industry, while prose continues to be the type of transmission that most often gets called to mind, poetry is becoming more and more saleable.
Lexi Pandell writes in “Don’t Look Now, but 2016 is Resurrecting Poetry,” in Wired, “[i]n both poetry and on Twitter, voices that may have otherwise gone unheard can suddenly have great power. In the case of poetry, that power is so great that, in diverse places in the world, poets are considered intellectually dangerous and have been jailed for using art as protest.” 1 Although most folks grant short shrift to uttered material, that sort of report’s range, especially the range of its subset, poetry, makes a communal difference.
Beyond its aurality, poetry’s value is found in its ability to empower both its creators and its audiences with: augmented empathy, amplified purgative aptitude, and expanded aesthetic awareness. Poetry has the potential to help people become better world citizens and to improve their individual character traits.
In the first case, unity, tolerance and understanding all originate from exposure to and acknowledgement of viewpoints divergent from one’s own. Weigh, for instance, the universal relevance of acknowledging expressions of tension between old and new regimes, as referenced in Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s “Myths,” and weigh, for instance, the value of holding onto widely accepted sentiments about death, reincarnation, and child development as voiced in Kimiko Hahns’ “In Childhood.” In both of these examples of poetry, plucked from writers based in cultures disparate to North America and Europe, there is much to teach “Westerners.”
In the second case, not only does poetry bridge human experiences across arrangements of beliefs, but poetry additionally functions well as a cathartic vehicle, i.e. is a therapeutic conduit for both positive emotions and negative ones. Regard the palpable joy given over in Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday,” and regard the rapture filling “thank you G[-]d for this most amazing” [sic] by e.e. cummings. Contrariwise, think about the pain put into words in Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror,” and the heartache made reachable in William Blake’s “On Another’s Sorrow.” Poetry’s relative syntactical freedom allows this genre to liberate mentations with routines that other kinds of writing cannot use. Even though metered poetry has constraints, overall, verse, unlike prose, is able to smash together nouns and verbs without having to rely on transitions provided by prepositions or conjunctions, hence, can heighten the intensity of phrases by means of modi inaccessible to written discourse.
In the third case poetry’s vitality derives, in part, from is its employment of sense-bound depictions. Allusions to the physical world often have a more substantiated imprint on consumers than do abstractions. Consider the taste of fruit in William Carlos William’s “This is Just to Say,” and, the quirky tang of vegetables, in Jack Prelutsky’s “Bleezer’s Ice Cream.” The anthropomorphized caw of a large all-black passerine bird, in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and the sound of varying sorts of “music” in Amy Lowell’s “The Cremona Violin,” correspondingly, are reminiscent of real life happenings. Similarly, the smell of flowers in Patricia Hampl’s “The Florist’s Daughter,” and the odor of human fluids in Bruce Barcott’s “Weed the People,” stir recollections of actual situations. Likewise, the snow manifested in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and the look of a limited piece of urban landscaping, in Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” jog the memories of their listeners. Furthermore, the feel of water, wind, and other elements in Hilda Doolittle’s “Wash of Cold River” and the textures of wood and of other objects in Margaret Atwood’s “Bored” hark back to happenstances sufficiently widespread as to be meaningful. Poetry’s facility with calling up experiences impresses most readers.
Society has returned to emphasizing sound-centric transferences of thought. Whether this conveyance is residual or revisional, it’s beneficial. Poetry can: strengthen benevolence, intensify emotional cleansing, and help develop appreciation for verbal art. As Lucille Clifton said in her frequently quoted interview for Listen to Their Voices, “poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language.”2 Poetry possesses a value all its own. It’s good that poetry is again being much-admired.
1. Lexi Pandell. “Don’t Look Now, but 2016 is Resurrecting Poetry.” Wired. Nov. 22, 2016. https://www.wired.com/2016/11/poetry-popularity-on-twitter/. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
2. Lucille Clifton. “9.” Mickey Pearlman. Ed. Listen To Their Voices: Twenty Interviews With Women Who Write. WW Norton & Co Inc. 1993.