I was delighted when Louise Glück, one of the great poets of our age, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I wrote about one of my all-time favorite poems, "Ithaca," for this week's episode, "Why Poetry Matters," with Louise as guest!
What Is It
Some people say they find poetry impenetrable. Yet readership is increasing: in a 2017 survey, the National Endowment for the Arts found that nearly 12% of adults in the US had read poetry in the last year. So what explains the enduring appeal of poetry as an art form? Are there any limits to who counts as a poet, or what counts as poetry? And what makes a poem good anyway? Josh and Ray wax lyrical with Nobel Prize-winning poet Louise Glück, author of American Originality: Essays on Poetry.
Is poetry just a fun pastime, or can it change our lives? Can poems help us to think, connect, and feel? Josh begins by arguing that poetry matters enormously, since it is a place to gain genuine wisdom. Ray loves poetry, but they counter by pointing out issues like war, famine, and climate change that seem to matter much more than poetry. Josh and Ray both agree that poetry provides a new vocabulary for talking about shared human experiences, and it helps you experience the mind of another person.
The co-hosts are joined by Louise Glück, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, who believes that poetry reformulates the things we know so that we feel them freshly. She explains that she finds the experience of putting words to feelings consoling because it reaffirms that we are not alone in our experiences. Ray considers poems that are about experiences they haven’t had, while Louise praises poems that have more questions than answers. Josh asks how poems evoke feelings of intimacy in the reader, and Louise describes why she enjoys poems that make her as a reader feel like her presence is required. If great poets invite her into their work, it gives her a sense that she could achieve something similar as an artist herself.
In the last segment of the show, Josh, Ray and Louise discuss what it means for a poem to be successful, the political impact of poetry, and being a poetry teacher. Josh believes that one mark of achievement is that a poem stays in the reader’s thoughts for a long time. Ray asks about the power of political and satirical poetry, and Louise points out that poets have no problem criticizing tyrants because they aren’t directly engaging and negotiating with them. To aspiring poets, Louise gives the advice of cultivating patience, since waiting is a painful but necessary part of the process.
Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:32) → Holly J. McDede checks in with two poets from the San Francisco Bay Area to ask why poetry matters to them.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 48:30) → Ian Shoales considers the beginnings of poetry and reinventions of the Iliad.
Is poetry just a fun pastime?
Or can it change our lives?
Can poems help us to connect, think and feel?
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