Why Does Poetry Matter?
How many children – and adults – have you known to roll their eyes, cross their arms, and stomp their feet at the mention of poetic engagement, and sternly ask, “Why do I have to read poetry?” Or, more to the point, why does poetry matter? As a connoisseur and writer of poetry, the answer is simple: Don’t ask stupid questions.
In all seriousness, however, poetry is important – and poetry matters – because it is intrinsically tied to who we are: human. Poetry allows us to give voice to ideas, emotions, and experiences we may otherwise find difficulty in expressing or even understanding. For example, the last video on this page is a poem I wrote dealing with the aftermath of a youth rooted in violence and abuse. You might find yourself better able to examine a moment in time – a wedding, a birthday, a funeral, an outing, or that time you watched a leaf float to the earth, etc. – and better understand how that moment impacted (or still impacts) you.
Poetry gives an insight into others. As poetry critic Stephen Burt shares:
The patterns in poems show us not just what somebody thought or what someone did or what happened, but what it was like to be a person like that — to be so anxious, so lonely, so inquisitive, so goofy, so preposterous, so brave.Thu-Huong Ha quoting Stephen Burt, What Happens When We Read Poetry
Poetry allows us to see through the hearts and senses and souls of others. Perhaps that is the most important part – seeing through another person’s eyes. It connects us through understanding, experience, and the commonality of simply being human.
This is the most important lesson I have taken away from reading and writing poetry. Poetry matters and is important because it gives us an opportunity to better understand ourselves individually and collectively.
Below you will find a selection of poetry which, in one way or another, made an impact on me. Each video is accompanied by a short summary. As this is for a college course, the poems were intentionally chosen from list of established literary authors. Perhaps if you enjoy the contents of this page, I will add more videos later on.
“The Changeling” written by author, educator, and Georgia Writers Hall of Fame inductee Judith Ortiz Cofer, is a poem of a young girl who cosplays as Che Guevara – a costume put together from clothing in her brother’s closet – in an attempt to steal away her father’s attention. Though her father was “baffled and amused” by his daughter’s tales of battle and bloodshed, her mother is not – insisting her daughter stick to the girl’s role and reality.
The performance and video composition flips the mood from one delving “into the dark side of the human psyche” into one of staunch heroism with a narrator who faces humanity’s dark side willingly.
“I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“ is an inglorious look at death by the late Emily Dickinson. The narrator, reflecting upon their death, sees not a dignified send off in the arms of the angel of death, but an event as natural as any.
The fly, an annoyance in its “stumbling Buzz” and lack of grace, takes the place of God – or the Angel of Death; driving home the uncertainty of that which comes after death, and life’s cruel ability to refuse us a fitting and dignified exit.
“It’s Raining Outside” is a reflective spoken word poem written by yours truly. Through intentional inflection and emphasis, musical accompaniment, and carefully selected imagery the poem describes the struggle of breaking generational cycles of violence and the difficulty to see the progress one has made in the midst of trying times.