Why Poetry Matters

Sunday, April 10, 2022

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.

Listening Notes

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.

Transcript

Transcript

Josh Landy  
Is poetry just a fun pastime?

Ray Briggs  
Or can it change our lives?

Josh Landy  
Can poems help us to connect, think and feel?

Ray Briggs  
Welcome to Philosophy Talk the program that questions everything

Comments (13)


Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, February 17, 2022 -- 9:49 PM

Poetry is typically short (a

Poetry is typically short (a godsend in an ever more rapid world), open to expressive interpretation and most importantly our mental experience of life is poetry. This last point is the least often told but the most fundamental. People wonder at the discontinuity of a dream, scratch together memories of a past trauma or love – when they do, it is poetry. Jerry Fodor’s language of thought hypothesis (LOTH) or thought ordered mental expression (TOME) – when written out plain or painstakingly accurate is the mentalese of poetry. Poetry appeals to the reader/listener as experience – sometimes touching, disturbing or emotional – it speaks to our thoughts, experience and creativity. The brain spontaneously creates reality as poetry.

...What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

We do this reading poetry. It is what makes it so appealing.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, February 25, 2022 -- 6:08 AM

Used to write something like

Used to write something like poetry. Still enjoy reading it. Verse allows us to wander into the abstract recesses of consciousness. 'Real' or hallucinatory. It permits us to rest some of our more tedious cognitive processes, while restoring serenity and wonder. A brother writes poetry now. His imagery reflects a life well-lived and a comfort in his own skin. The images are not readily accessible to everyone. And that is all right, too. He still asks questions, going in to his eighth decade. Not bad, for an old guy....a grandfather, after all these years.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Wednesday, March 2, 2022 -- 12:28 PM

Although poetry differs from

Although poetry differs from prose in that the range of interpretive possibilities is not constrained by concision-design semiologically, it nonetheless retains a prosaic function by unstable reference to given classes of such possibilities. This is why, in my view, poets historically can get away with criticizing tyrants while political opponents can't, which I interpret as indicated in Shakespeare's Hamlet when he writes "the play's the thing..." Consider for example, for what edification it's worth, the poem below composed for the occasion:

Where seed of wit with sprout of hope,
begrudge not frosted lens of scope,
when fog and mist and dew drops too,
allow no dart of vision through,
where sap and thorns with bile discourage,
the dance of neuron left to forage,
still yet the sapling's ken to procure,
ideation, construal, slink past the obscure.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, March 9, 2022 -- 4:21 AM

Nice work!

Nice work!

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tartarthistle's picture

tartarthistle

Sunday, March 20, 2022 -- 4:07 PM

This thought stuff is so

Puzzling... but sprouting of hope...

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, March 25, 2022 -- 7:03 AM

I think, if poetry is as

I think, if poetry is as impenetrable as some would make it out to be, we are become more literal than is good for us. Obscurity may well be the stuff of dreams and creativity. And, so, if said impenetrability is a bane to the understanding of poetry, what of art? As a personal observation, if poetry does not for me fire a neuron or nudge a ventricle, I will put it aside for a bit. Reflective cognition is superior to fatalistic resignation. Should the verse not come more clearly on second reading, then, and only then,I will throw in the towel.

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tartarthistle's picture

tartarthistle

Saturday, April 2, 2022 -- 9:36 PM

No! don't throw in the towel.

No, don't throw in the towel! Fire a neuron! Become more literal, less "good." Obscurity may well be the stuff of dreams, so go for it! Dive. Swim. Then, and only then, throw in the towel. Live my darling, that's what physical bodies are for.

Can't you take a hint? Nudge your ventricle! What would Kant do?

P.S.Select all squares with
tractors
If there are none, click skip...
I'm not a robot.

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tartarthistle's picture

tartarthistle

Sunday, April 3, 2022 -- 8:59 PM

Oh, and please mention

Oh, and please mention something about the intentional (rather artful) application of silence. That dark and deep and incredibly powerful energetic absence. No, you didn't need to say anything at all. I got the message. Shut up. Sit down. Just who do you think you are? Something that matters?

I would love to hear about the poetic language of absence, that deliberate manufacturing of desire (desperation, starvation) in one's audience. We children will do anything for a little trickle of energetic attention from those perceived as above us, our influencers...

Poets are usually humble, but poets are not in power...at least not visibly and explicitly in power...

Although in reality, they are the unacknowledged legislators...

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, April 4, 2022 -- 7:40 AM

No one is telling you to be

No one is telling you to be queit Tartarthistle. Speak to the topic that is all. Silence has been used in poetry. This isn't about you unless you want to make it so, which you do often. That works if you can bring it back to the topic. Otherwise it is trolling.

There are plenty in the Ukraine now quiet to spend our thoughts.

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tartarthistle's picture

tartarthistle

Monday, April 4, 2022 -- 12:45 PM

I didn't say that I was being

I didn't say that I was being told to be quite. (Well, actually, I guess I did.) But what I meant was that silence is used as an active means of influencing others in language. It's a rhetorical technique and a very effective one. Please respond to my argument (this is a philosophy blog, we are talking about truth and falseness not name-calling), so please try to refrain from personally attacking me by implying I have some sort of political agenda attached to Russia simply because I go by the name of a Russian plant. I am not Russian, nor am I a troll, nor am I a plant.

Claude Debussy noted that "Music is the space between the notes." Silence, or the deliberate creation of nothing/absence, paradoxically communicates an idea. Nothing is sometimes something. After all, what is the point without parts in geometry if not literally nothing. That's a pretty powerful bit of nothingness, if you ask me.

So, I challenge you (dramatically throwing down my glove here) to stop attacking me personally, and to respond to my comment. Silence as a technique of influence can be used for good and for bad. This occurs in art, in the media, and in leadership (ask any parent or teacher about this highly effective means of discipline).

Please respond. Waiting...

P.S. A little defensive about the silencing of others, aren't we...hmm...

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tartarthistle's picture

tartarthistle

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 -- 7:14 AM

And since this discussion of

And since this discussion of poetry is in the context of philosophy, Ms. Gluck must talk about Rumi. He was, after all, first a teacher (an Islamic scholar, trained in geometry), and only later became a poet and a highly mystical one. He made a friend, and this friend lit him up. Shams-e Tabrizi caused him to see things differently, and Rumi wrote poems expressing deep affection for this friend.

This transformation reveals two sorts of teachers and two sorts of teaching experiences. One is rather sober, formal, and crunchy, and the other is ecstatic, informal, and soft/loving. In others words, in Rumi and his life, just like with Socrates and his life, we see the relational aspects of philosophy--the lover and the beloved, the teacher and the pupil.

We moderns kept only the first teacher--via Plato. We have the symbolic part down. We are way crunchy. We KNOW things.

But the latter teacher and the latter pupil...we do not discuss. Fine. Perhaps it's a private matter. (This lovely silence, this lovely private matter.) It's uncomfortable for men especially, since it involves honesty about the complexity of love/gender and the realm of ideas, it involves opening up and being vulnerable to another (most often another another man/youth), and it involves unity...a very touchy subject when it comes to relations between adults and youths and unity between them...

We are modern humans, and modern humans are prudes, hence the collective silence on the obvious facts of life, the reality of this ancient connection...

However, poetry gives us a language to "go there" without going there explicitly and getting everyone all a flutter. We don't have to expose our private matters, for all to analyze and fight over.

Here is the silence I would love hear Ms. Gluck play with a little in words....

Philosophy, poetry, and adult/youth bonds...and our collective silence on the subject, for very good reasons...

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tartarthistle's picture

tartarthistle

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 -- 9:04 PM

Yes, I expected a very

Yes, I expected a very pregnant pause here.....

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Tuesday, May 10, 2022 -- 5:09 PM

Who's the lucky father?

Who's the lucky father?

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