What can be commonly said about a skeptic who turns for clarity to a Rae Armantrout poem, a plumber who searches on Yahoo for a wedding toast, a harried person who seeks in poetry refuge from a grueling job, or a Guantanamo prisoner who, denied pen and paper, uses pebbles to scratch poems on Styrofoam cups? The poet is there on the bus, we are there, we are all in the mill-race. Here are some things you could consider in placing a text in ‘context’: the life or biography of the poet; other works that the poet has written; the historical period in which that poem was written; the place or event that gave rise to the … Stephen Burt: What is the social function of poetry? are some things you could consider in placing a text in ‘context’: Although any or all of these features can be important when writing about a poem, the poem itself should be at the centre of your discussion. I believe 9/11 solace poetry has given support, however indirectly and unintentionally, to the Bush administration. So the first question is, what does this mean? Emily Warn: After twenty-four hours of traveling, I get home to Seattle bleary-eyed. High school seniors Sam and Catherine will tell you what they have gotten ou… The kind of poetry written to make us feel better, for example, after 9/11, is pro-establishment falsification, for it lets us pull the comforter back over our heads and go on sleeping. I'm also disturbed by Emily's romantic scenario relating to Guantanamo prisoners. This ritual generates empathy and widens our humanity. "Poems are born dark," Celan wrote, because language is "loaded with world." Dmitri Shostakovich faced (and sometimes tried to satisfy) the demands of Soviet musical realism. Yes, there is terrible suffering; we are all going to die. "I run a weekly group for abusive men," he said. D.It is a code for "cool" in the poem. If we abandon this use, then poets become one more group of wage-laboring specialists, gathered into "ghettos," speaking our own language, and designing complicated objects which serve as prophylactics to protect us from people still naïvely seeking this life-making force. For her, the poem has value and purpose because it says something meaningful to her. What is the significance of the word "Nobody" in the poem? They seem to claim authenticity for individual experiences derived from watching TV—and fail to ask the question, why do these people want to kill us? Writing is even more of an offence to the general public. It is a place to witness. In our society the use of poetry is now a sign of delusion. The fact that most often this poetic "exchange of energy" (Rukeyser) is between two people does not mean it ends there. If that is what Emily means, I accept her claim, with two demurrers. The oral tradition can take many forms, including epic poems, chants, rhymes, songs, and more. Rather, they have effect of making a pefectly wonderful occasion awkward. What about reading my great-grandmother's love letters, reading Studs Terkel's oral histories, contemplating Brancusi's "Bird in Flight"? These notions make me queasy, and are treason to poetry. I used to love poetry so much that I majored in Chinese literature. If there are universal truths about the communicative functions in poems—truths about all good poems, not just about "The Mill-Race"—they are so universal that they do not count as social, by my lights: they concern communication among just two persons at a time, whether the two meet face-to-face, or whether implicit author and genuine reader live thousands of years apart. Though its subject matter and politics are both clear and attractive, content has very little to do with why the poem is extraordinary. A long line of poets and thinkers have made great claims about poetry's social use. "For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument that makes a poem—a thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing." "The Mill-Race" is good and usefulbecause it presents in extraordinary language an aspect of the human condition, not some false solution having to do with feel-good "relat(ing) to drained faces." Is it this capacity that will help us, better than ammo or dollars, find a way through these harrowing times? Students often go wrong by writing more about the historical background or the life of the poet than about the poem itself. Historicism argues that literature is a product of its age and the meaning of a text can only be discovered by fitting it around other discourses from the same period. These might seem like grand dreams, but it is just such a belief in the power of poetry that spurs my pen to action, whether I am getting paid or not. I think poetry ought to be taught not as an engine of meaning but as an opportunity to learn to live in doubt and uncertainty, as a means of claiming indeterminancy. Oral poetry is a wide subject that ranges from American 'folk-songs', Eskimo lyrics or popular songs, to the heroic poems of Homer and distinct epic composers in Asia and the Pacific. Poetry can make none of these happen. Sex pornography has its uses, even positive ones, but nobody confuses it with serious art about love. Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, as well as the more politically-minded poets like Adrienne Rich, Sonia Sanchez, and Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad all reach beyond mere aestheticism and challenge accepted notions of the above solipsistic poet toiling away at a few columns of free verse. No one says, "Hey lyric soprano, make me feel better, hey basso profundo, help me understand societal problems." Poetry is one of the most powerful forms of writing because it takes the english language, a language we believe we know, and transforms it. Most people in this world do not read, do not enjoy reading and read only to fulfill concrete educational requirments. It is my antidote to despair, tiredness and loneliness; a thread that runs through my life. Classical literary works serve as a food for thought and encourage imagination and creativity. But they'll likely never mean as much in the public sphere, where content definitely does matter. 4 Enjoyment matters. I once had a social worker approach me after a reading to thank me for writing a particular poem. I solve problems with its lines—not just their lexicon, but the life breathed into form by rhythm, rhyme or meter: a riddle; a moment of joy. Do other forms of art and work carry out this same task? Emerson thought poems could change reality because they uncover its hardwiring, then jimmy with it. Poetry’s strength lies in its ability to shed a “sideways” light on the world, so the truth sneaks up on you. Poetry can have an immediate impact in the world. B.It is used positively in the poem, but it usually has a negative connotation. It exists (and existed) to entertain, to inform, and to promulgate cultural traditions and values. "The Mill-Race" by Anne Winters serves as proof text. The worth and importance of all poems is at least partially determined by the context in which they are read and the nature of the audience reading them. Burt seems to be stacking and storing different types of poetry in a container ship, removed and protected from the world as it journeys across the sea. Such a position is necessary to our communal health. They would likely be committed to mental institutions for claims of having visions, of the socially relevant and supernatural variety; at least one would be labeled a terrorist or terrorist-sympathizer for speaking against the state and/or professing anti-Christian beliefs; another ostracized for brazenly exercising self-proclaimed, progressive forms of natural love. Most poets must admit that they would cherish being seen by their community of friends and relatives as "functional," the voice who sanctions and gives formal expression to their lives in verse, who serves as the repository of their thoughts and experiences, much like the West African djali or griot. Both poets want to say something about a society, and both poets want to do something we might call "social"—to imagine, and to cause, some sense of relations that extend beyond one-on-one intimacy—but they differ in what they want to do, and in why. We are living in a world of poetries. Kathmandu Valley has served as the country’s cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the 18th Century. Great poems don't always fit categories of usage: Martial's hilariously filthy invectives, Dickinson's apolitical lyrics, and, despite their stupid fascism, Pound's Cantos, all function as great poetry. The ‘social, historical and cultural’ contexts can consist of a variety of factors. Literary works are portrayals of the thinking patterns and social norms prevalent in society. The capital city Kathmandu enjoys a rich tapestry of cultures blending to form a national identity. America's crimes may be forcing poets back into the world. Whatever you think of the folks who fix your pipes, you know roughly what they get paid to do, and why the people who pay them value their services. They take it quite seriously and expect a small audience, without worrying about whether their obsession is useful or that their audience is small. Art of witness is essential. This is particularly important when comparing two writers and will be rewarded by the examiner. The quikest way to lose the respect of friends, family and colleagues is to write poetry for them. If one lesbian or gay student lives, does not consider suicide because they've found themselves reflected in a poem, that's pretty social. And when, on the carved lapis lazuli, a man "asks for mournful melodies;/Accomplished fingers begin to play;/...their eyes,/Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay." Prozac would probably work better. If you're crawling to poems on your hands and knees, as I once heard a famous poet remark—in my view, you're not crawling to poetry. But poetry's the High Art which is also democratic: inexpensive, portable, reproducible, quickly consumed (except for epic and very difficult poetry), requiring only literacy to participate. Culture grows from roots more enduring than those of the political state. Exposing oneself to good literary works, is equivalent to providing one with the finest of … Over centuries, the poem also says, these workers have raised cathedrals, invented art. The readerly self, if the music and strategies of the poem are a success, fades away to assume the speaker's identity, or the poem's psychic position. I try to teach my students the full magnitude of what can happen during the reading of a poem. Plenty of things need to happen in this country, like impeaching George Bush, nationalizing health care, legalizing same-sex civil union, and bringing the troops home now. Because I am a woman, working class, Native, writing about my life is instantly political.So it is for anyone who isn't white, male, able-bodied, straight, middle-class... For those of us whose history is not represented, or is distorted, or downright lies, poetry is a place to say what is true. They may enact, for example, an obsessive rhythmic movement in the body onto the page, or explore the significance of a gripping image. Quality does. We might begin by intending to be merely useful (I never have). We shouldn't denigrate this capacity, no matter how much we are being paid. The only literature that should be allowed to exist is that which aggrandizes whichever government regime is in power at any given time in order to induce patriotic rapture. I like political poetry; it acknowledges that politics are part of life. The salt sting is both our empathy for the workers' weariness and the fact of their individual lives ground to salt. If a reading public feels consoled or seeks "a momentary stay against confusion," and poetry provides them this, why deem such works of art failures? Whitman did not know his work would inform a gay liberation movement. Use is not function. She earned degrees from Kalamazoo College and the University of Washington. I liked how it compared culture to a flowing river, not stagnated water. Major Jackson: The function of poetry is that it does not have any function beyond its own construction and being-in-the-world. And this is what Eliot means by the social function of poetry in its largest sense, “that it does, in proportion to its excellence and vigour, affect the speech and the sensibility of the whole nation” (p.22) “THE SOCIAL FUNCTION OF POETRY” BY T.S. Major Jackson: Daisy Fried wonders why poetry is called to duty, why it "is asked to do more than be itself," especially during moments of political or national crisis. Culture is all about where we live, our language, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the … To speak usefully about the social function of poetry, we need to decide what—or whose—poetry we intend. It is great to be in such a diversifed group.Needless to say, for those 2 hours, once a week meetings are mind opening to new thought patterns of how the individuals process their creativity.A full range of emotions it encompasses.Inspiration from the spoken word can come from everyday conversations. It's easy to talk about some "them" for whom poetry is useful. Her full-length collections of poetry include The Leaf Path (1982), The Novice Insomniac (1996), and Shadow Architect (2008). I wrote it in classical and modern Chinese and English. Suddenly the words do not sound the same or mean the same. Ceremonies are held to celebrate a new life or in honour of a life well […] The only kind of poetry that doesn't have social function is that which tells us how to think about X, Y, or Z, or tells us to buck up, or that the world is a wonderful place. See if you can catch the punch line in Stephen Crane's "A Man Said to the Universe." How can one not relate to the drained faces of the women office workers on an evening bus, to their scant hope that, despite their misspent, dwindling hours in the service of Labor, they have preserved a shred of self? That's the moment of poetry; poems exist to let readers share in that moment. Becoming aware of this background information can help you to understand and appreciate the poetry texts you read and help you form your responses more effectively. To understand this, it is important to recognise that texts, such as poems, are not created in a vacuum but are the product of many influences that affect the ways in which writers write and the ways in which we read and interpret their work. Late Merrill—the Merrill of "Self-Portrait in Tyvek Windbreaker"—wonders whether his poetry might resound beyond that social group. 3 Poetry matters. Culture of Nepal. Learn how to write a poem about Social media and share it! I'm only sorry more poets don't know how to fix toilets, myself included. The poem captured the imagination of writers and artists who were alienated from the dominant social forms of Dwight Eisenhower's America. Here From something you hear or read about that can spark a new poem, about everything to life's situations and the emotional responses it triggers. The title poem of Howl and Other Poems is key, and its opening line famously defines the Beat Generation: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked." In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. Poetic insight, he wrote, "does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucent to others." If, before the Romantics, the poet's job was speaking for society, the Romantics moved towards speaking to and for the individual, including the poor and oppressed. Why do we, as poets, find this function of poetry so regrettable? Bad poems are often more useful for healing, persuasion, and celebration than good ones. 1 History matters. “Feminism”, Ashia Ajani, Tolu Obiwole, Abby Friesen-Johnson, and Alexis Rain Vigil. Now, I have no idea if this poem will "endure," but it was immensely gratifying that it was "of use" beyond my own desire to write it. They have it tough. Anne Winters's "The Mill-Race," about office workers in lower Manhattan, contains virtuoso description of the urban scene: workers, weather, light, limos of the bosses, buses of the employees. I'll hazard an answer. For this reason, poetry makes everything (and, yes, nothing) happen, especially in a consumer society prone to assessing and dispensing value to everything from lap dances to teachers' salaries. In contrast, Emerson claims that "Poets are...liberating gods." Poetry, as Barrett makes clear, does not exist outside of social and cultural realities; the goal of cultural poetics is to explore the two as always intertwined. True revolutionary poets are stripped of their laureateships or never reviewed in these pages, for some reason probably having to do with the worn-out argument of lack of aesthetic worth or little merit. If they find out you do not write occasional poetry, but use poetry or other forms of literature express one's personal thoughts or views, then that person is always viewed an an overly sentimental, concieted, arrogant, selfish introvert, who should be doing useful things with their time rather than writing words.Finally, the simple fact is people do not care about others' emotional states or thoughts, unless they have some profitable use. Poetry is so important because it helps us understand and appreciate the world around us. Emily Warn seems to argue that content supplies poems' utility. Powell's poems about living and loving with HIV, or A.R. Poetry is intensely valuable to me and it always has been. They think, perhaps, that poetry Tells the Truth, or Provides Solace. So too poetry. One good reason to read poems from distant times and places is that they take us out of our society, showing us how much emotion and thought isn't social (for, about, or addressed to one particular society) at all. I am an Abenaki poet, and never considered my work political until it was published and people started writing about me as a "political" poet. Rather, my point is that different poems do different things, and good poems (such as "The Mill-Race") do many things at once. Just ask the poet who reluctantly agrees to contribute to a wedding program, a funeral, or a political rally: the assignment pales in comparison to those poems that arise out of his own mysterious and idiosyncratic need. Questions of word choice or even the language of the poetry are often informed by social values or, following Jillian Cavanaugh (2009) , social aesthetics (see also Webster 2009 ). This in turn would give literature a true social function and not cause offense. Literature is simply classist and is of no use to the common man. The group members are well versed and do readings, some have been published. First, it is a historically specific understanding, one which describes many superb poems, but leaves out many—to say the least—wonderfully memorable uses of verse (e.g. Stephanie (also Steph; formerly Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. Absolutely. If a poem has something to say and says it well, it will be remembered. James Merrill's poetry has a social function in the sense of "social event": it tries to produce—often, in the face of mortality, or dejection, or bodily ills—a sense that the poet has friends who get his jokes, who share his sense of things, who respond in kind. Martín Espada, John Yau, and Nikki Finney are just a few of many poets who write poetry that "embraces experience in its full complexity," yet their books never receive a nod in Poetry. It is to be a candel in the dark and the the whisper of concience and hope in the depths of despair.What use is poetry?That! There is not one monolithic "Poetry," especially here, now in America, where people are coming to poetry from so many different languages, traditions, mythologies/cosmologies, and bringing it all to the English language. Stephen Burt: A clarification for Daisy Fried: I meant what plumbers do (fix pipes), not who they are or what they read. Poetry's social function comes not from what it means but from what it is. The student's poem reflects the cultural context of the mask. How can its content not matter? This is a principle deduced from the nature of culture, not from the nature of the state. PS: Sorry for my bad english, I'v just started to learn this language ;)See you! Does it disclose the pathos of other human beings and the source of their suffering? Eventually it becomes political necessity. They are a depiction of the different facets of common man’s life. You can separate its content from its uses, which are to shake people from their consumer stupor and usher them into indeterminate mystery." In making our circuitry—our social and biological nerves—translucent, it becomes perceivable and so changeable. Copyright © 2007 - 2021 Revision World Networks Ltd. Is my Talmud teacher among the wounded or dead? Poems such as "The Mill-Race" make us aware of the social conditions that shape our relations; their language helps us dwell in, puzzle out, and feel the conditions and the relations, no matter how terrible, making a change in them more possible. I mean this seriously. A headline swims into sight: "Shooting at Jewish Federation Offices Leaves 1 Dead, 5 Wounded." The function of War and Peace is greater than its many uses. Milton's sonnet against the Long Parliament). Poetry and the sentiments involved in it do not serve the function of obtaining employment and food, housing and procreation, do not increase one's social standing and on many occasion cause discord among people due the intense opinions and sentements involved in it; this meaning one may read one's writing and be offended by the thought, image or opinion expressed in such writing. However, what may give a poem its originality and heft—extraordinary language, searing imagery, high lyricism—may be too arcane for the layperson. 2 Words matter. I have no desire to insist on such protection, nor to deny that poems have social functions. Ah, but poetry binds our solitudes, creating this self-encounter which becomes paradoxically social, through language alone. And here's where I disagree with Daisy. But politically-alert poetry is no more intrinsically useful than any other poetry. Is there some function we should call "social," in some ordinary meaning of that term, which all good poems, and only poems (no non-poems: no sculptures, for example) attain? Of course Ms. Hardworking Roto-Rooter reads poetry, at least casually, like anyone who reads at all. "Compared to the writing of poetry, few other human activities take place so widely, at least in America, absent even a tacit consensus as to why we do them, what good they do, what function they serve.". It enacts a central human paradox: we exist as singular selves, yet can only know them through our relations. Emily Warn: Stephen Burt's logic is airtight. What I also read in this exchange is a distasteful cynicism about poetry's ability—its responsibility—to affect lives. Such ontological feelings of fragmentation and alienation, which often led to a more pessimistic and bleak outlook on life as manifested in representative modernist poems such as T.S. Such displays may be emotionally or politically useful, but who needs them? But this doesn't explain why the superfluous demands are often made by educated poetry experts. Take, for example, bad 9/11 poems, at which I do "sniff the air." Daisy Fried: How about a moratorium on using plumbers and other "common" people as mythical readers of poetry? Shame on them. That's a social function in the sense of "social good," even of "social policy." Oral storytelling is telling a story through voice and gestures. Poetry is one of those topics that often gets dismissed as whimsical and unimportant. So it makes it even harder, if not impossible, in poetry. It isn't as limited as ever it once was. So maybe it's good that poetry carries this extra burden, even if it means that the idea of poetry is more necessary to people than individual poems, and that people tend not to pay attention to what's happening on the page. (I could have used ASL interpreters, or oncologists.) ... and to get across the larger message of the importance of establishing cross-cultural human connections. The stacks of poetry can be referenced by poet-engineers, not of the sacred or the social, but of the aesthetic. Such antagonism directed at people through the use of condescening, flowery language make people feel the poet/literature is challenging them with complicated ideas and emotions, most of which are of no use to sensible hardworking people and should generally be avoided. 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