Why Poetry Matters

Four writers weigh in.

Poetry: It’s the most enigmatic of creative writing forms. While it can be intimidating — both to write and to read — those who practice the art are devoted to it. And many times, that devotion stems from the very qualities that make it so challenging and, ultimately, rewarding.

In the video above, celebrated poets Alice Walker, Sherman Alexie, and Luis J. Rodriguez, along with scholar Christopher Freeman, discuss the magnetism of the form that so captivates them — and readers.

“There’s no controlling poetry. It comes when it wishes,” says Walker, whose 1976 collection Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems is a visceral reaction to the civil rights movement—a moment in history that would shape the country, and that she herself influenced through words and advocacy.

Rodriguez, author of The Concrete River, agrees.

“Poetry is the most honest way of trying to express a feeling, a thought, a moment,” he says. “Poetry has helped me developed a sense of competence about language, and narrative, and emotions.”

One has only to read his book – a mesmerizing collection of poems of urban pain and immigrant alienation – to understand what draws Rodriguez to the art form, and the catharsis it can offer.

Paul Monette’s work evokes a different kind of pain – the pain that grows out of loss and grief. Following his partner Roger Horwitz’s death from AIDS in 1986, Monette threw himself into creating the elegies that comprise his book Love Alone. Writing them, he says, “quite literally kept me alive.”

Of course, poetry can be elusive — and anything but simple. “Poetry is one image,” says Sherman Alexie, author of the award-winning War Dances. “You can be more mysterious. You can ask questions and not answer them.”

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