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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Utility of Poetry

Leopold Froelich, executive editor of a men's magazine I would rather not have anything to do with promoting even by mentioning its name on my blog, has something to say about poetry in the October issue of Poetry Magazine. The quote starts now:

I am dismayed when I hear questions about the utility of poetry. How do you use poetry, and what is it good for? This is odd. Poetry is song. No one asks, What use is song? What use are birds? Poetry has no use. It matters because of its inutility. “Poetry is not a form of entertainment,” wrote Brodsky, “and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but our anthropological, genetic goal, our linguistic, evolutionary beacon.”

People go out of their way to ignore this beacon today, but they do so at their own peril. “By failing to read or listen to poets,” Brodsky wrote in “An Immodest Proposal,” “a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation—of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan—in short, to its own.”

Maybe Brodsky had this right, and this is the highest purpose of poetry, or song: It keeps us from listening to fools.


Poetry's inutility is what makes it invaluable; it is what saves me.

By the way, did you know the entire contents of the current issue of Poetry Magazine (as well as archives of back issues dating from 1912) are available online? Follow the link to enjoy their generosity, especially appreciated by those of us living abroad who get our magazines 2 months late.

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