Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Does Poetry Matter Essay

Here is an essay I submitted to a contest.

Does Poetry Matter?
Scott Helmes

3 times 13.
Thirty Nine.
Thirty Nine Years.

If Poetry doesn’t matter, I’ve wasted thirty nine years of my life. That’s more than a third of a century. Should I caterwaul now or wait a few years longer, say a nice round fifty? What is one life anyway, when you consider what else I could have frittered away those precious seconds on. Maybe as a vacuum salesman, or a dedicated television watcher (since it’s been around my whole life; well almost), or a stumble bum.

Such is the life of an avant garde poet, a continual outcast from contemporary poetry, literature and language in general.

As Wittgenstein put forth, there is no such thing as a private language; and therefore thus a public language; and then there will be poetry; regardless of its popularity, significance, or use. Before books there was poetry. After books, there will be poetry. Its form is not the question. Whether or not it touches the mind, the heart or the eye, it is central to the fabric of life. It is not a question of quality, or feeling, or quantity. It exists. All that exists does matter and poetry will not be extinguished, may be even after humans. It is not a matter of convincing others, or I that poetry matters, which is a waste of time.  And it is not a question of importance, for I create poetry for the purpose of only creating- a fruitless activity if there ever was one.

The central issue then should be stated as a matter of influence: does poetry influence anything? The conduct of our life, the defining moments, do we think of poetry? Obviously today, for the majority, poetry does not occupy the central stage, or even share it with similar language based activities. And that may not be a good thing. The decline of difficult culture is to be lamented, only because critical culture creates critical thinkers, and great poetry is at the core of critical thinkers. Critical thinkers are not smart computer programmers, nor are they political pundits; they exist today in the sub-margins of the landscape, They’ve escaped into the bowels of academia, much taken with their own circular formulas and logic, rarely straying from the friendly confines of being tenured. Thoughtful opinions, carefully reasoned positions, in depth commentary (outside the latest news), are buried under the noise, the bling, the sound bite, and the condensed text, such as a twitter, never to reach a significant mass. The vehicles to convey these thoughts are lost in commerce, reaching a dead end.

And thus, what of the future?. Poetry may be like a seed, to lie fallow, and then burst forth in evolutionary forms, unrecognizable to many. It may be a buzzing constant, always in the background, but not on center stage. It may marry and produce hybrid offspring, adapting to the march of time. It may be a phoenix.

Yet poetry continues to matter on a singular, individual level; for poetry put me in touch with peoples from around the world and still does; even from behind the censored Iron Curtain and Cuba and those who did not speak English-all this before the web. It led to readings and performances in Boston, Ottawa, Prescott AZ, Cincinnati, New York, Columbus, Miami, Albany, New Brunswick and other backwaters. I got to see and ponder the work of many others that was exciting, avant garde and strange. It matters because I was able to be in touch with people unknown in a curious manner, an intelligent dialogue, and with sympathetic strangers who became the known from the unknown. It also gave me a chance to send a lot of paper to a major university library for endless storage. And maybe someday, a desperate graduate student will spend countless hours trying to figure out what it all means; and then graduate into a poetry stifled world.  It lifted me from the fog enveloping my neurons. Striking out on new territory long ago, poetry was this glittering snow field of language, from which if language didn’t matter, than poetry didn’t matter and I didn’t either. But I couldn’t determine that at the start; and now that it is more towards the end; those remaining seconds breathe language, and thus poetry as if the previous thirty nine years count on it.

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