Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Poetry’s Uselessness

It’s poetry’s uselessness that excites me. Its hopelessness. All this talk of usefulness makes me feel I’ve suddenly been shanghaied into the helping professions. Prose is practical language. Conversation is practical language. Let them handle the usefulness jobs. But of course, poetry has its balms. It makes us less lonely by one. It makes us have more room inside ourselves. But it’s paralyzing to think of usefulness and poetry in the same breath. - Kay Ryan


  1. well, Poetry is a specific use of the language with no more purpose than its very self. you can find that use in conversation and prose, although it is true that both conversation and prose tend to pursue practical goals. the literary genre called poetry--which not always contains The Poetry--is often useful as well. all i want to point out is that the opposition prose-poetry cannot reach the question of Poetry, which goes beyond the convention, beyond the genre.

  2. I love Kay Ryan. I disagree with her here. Poetry has great usefulness and is necessary to our lives. It is the system of a language of expression upon which every other kind of expression is built. Any businessman (and I am one) who has studied poetry and still reads it, will tell you that it has many uses in its application in the living of a life, thinking, reading and writing. Poetry informs us of certain elements of our life, as much as reading the Wall St. Journal does of business cycles. Could you imagine reading a newspaper article about anything without poetic figures of expression, metaphors, synecdoche, metonymy, etc.? Can't be done. At a very elemental level, for Kay Ryan and other teachers, poetry is a day job (Bruce Springsteen used to say the same thing about Rock). Saying poetry has no usefulness is like saying that Music or Art has no usefulness. I know some people would like to jump on the David Orr bandwagon ("Beautful and Pointless"), but poetry has an interstitial purpose that even some of our great writers seem to have overlooked.

  3. Reminds me of something from Leopold Froehlich that I heard on a podcast a couple months ago. He says: "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."