The necessity of poetry

The necessity of poetry
Burt Baldwin - 11/30/2023

(Editor’s note: The City of Durango recently established its first ever Poet Laureate program, funded by the Lodgers Tax Arts and Culture Fund. The program is meant to create a vibrant platform for local poets to share their voices and engage with the community. The winners of the two Poet Laureate positions, an adult and a young adult, will be announced in December.)  

Poetry is the language of the heart. Without poetry, all our lives would lose the beauty and grandeur of honest expression. Poetry is a necessity as simple as an embrace. The problem with poetry, and figurative language as a whole, is that it is not emphasized or even recognized as a critical part of our culture. In most cases, poetry is glossed over in academics. If one would travel to such nations as Russia or Poland, he or she may be surprised to find that poetry is not only an integral part of their culture but is highly regarded as a prized expression of their everyday lives. It is not uncommon to see poets on street corners reciting their passions in verse.

Poetry has always had a place in the politics of the day. Poets have risked their lives, not only to express their beliefs, but to rally the citizenry to seek the truth in matters of government. Poets such as Whitman, Lowell, Lorca, Mandelstam and Akhmatova have put their reputation and lives on the line with a poem. Such great anti-war poets as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen have left us a first-hand account of the terrors of war. Throughout history, scholars and poets were the first to be arrested by fascist regimes, for they were always the first to speak out against injustice.  

I am reminded of Victor Jara, the Chilean poet, who was executed by General Pinochet – his hands cut off before execution as to set an example – or of Boris Pasternak’s beautiful collection of love poems that were censored during Stalin’s tyrannical rule.

I am always amazed by the diverse talent in writing that is found in the youth of today. After reading many young poets during my tenure as a teacher, I am honored to have witnessed their words and how they ignited a soul’s thirst. They have shown true feats of brilliance! In spite of the standard complaint, which I have heard numerous times by students, that “Writing is too hard, and I cannot put down my ideas in a way that people  would understand,” I found this obstacle easily removed when the student truly realized that writing is enjoyable.  

Learning to write poetry is not a chore, it is a gift! This is a facet that many teachers of literature fail to realize. Poetry provides such an avenue of creativity but is seldom explored. Poems are malleable. They bend with the thought, and oftentimes grammatical conventions can be de-emphasized. This is not to say that writing good poetry disregards proper diction and rules, but it does give the word its power, and in many ways this alleviates the pressures of convention, especially for the novice writer.  

Poetry is a necessity if we are to remain a cultured society. It is a way to show our dreams, fears and hopes through the word. Sometimes our worlds are troubled, yet verse enables us to express what is inexpressible. Intense vision, emotional relief and a sense of identity are all attributes of the poem. The poem is power, highly individualistic and humble. When a poet writes a poem and reads it to an audience, it is no longer his. It has transcended its purpose. It has been given away. It has become a true gift.

– Burt Baldwin