The following essay appears in our Fall/Winter 2018 issue. The entire issue is available for purchase in print or digital format.
Poetry is a concise and elemental means of expressing the deepest of human emotions: joy, sorrow, grief, hope, love, and longing. It connects us as a people and a community; it speaks for us in a way few other forms of writing can do. When I was in the process of moving to Manhattan in 2001, in the weeks after 9/11, poems appeared on every available wall in the city. Yet even though I was so aware of poetry’s power, over the next ten years, while sitting alone in front of my computer, finishing up another volume in my Ten Poems series, I would wonder at times whether I was wasting my time.
After all, the world is in trouble. It has always been in trouble. Not only that, but we are often in trouble personally, too. Surely there must be something more useful, more pressing, to give my time to than reflecting on poetry? Couldn’t I go start a project in Africa, or at least do some small thing to prevent climate catastrophe, start reducing my own carbon footprint, for example, and begin a movement to encourage others to do the same? But no; I wrote more poetry books, wondering all the while whether they and I were doing little more than making ourselves progressively irrelevant.
I knew better, which is why I kept writing. I knew that great poetry has the power to start a fire in a person’s life. It can alter the way we see ourselves. It can change the way we see the world. You may never have read a poem in your life, and yet you can pick up a volume, open it to any page, and suddenly find yourself blown into a world full of awe, dread, wonder, marvel, deep sorrow, and joy. Poetry not only matters; it is profoundly necessary. Especially in times of darkness and difficulty, both personal and collective. To read or write poetry is a powerful, even subversive, act, and it is one small thing we can do that can make a very big difference.
ROGER HOUSDEN is the author of the new book Ten Poems for Difficult Times, the most recent addition to his best-selling Ten Poems series, which began in 2001 with Ten Poems to Change Your Life. He offers writing workshops, both live and online, with an emphasis on self-discovery and exploration. Visit him online at www.RogerHousden.com.
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