Guest post by Art Elser
In these times of constant connection to the world, waves of information that daily inundate us, fears many have because of the recent events, is there room in our lives for poetry? Can we measure its cost effectiveness? Its effect to the bottom line? Its return on investment? Since April is National Poetry Month, perhaps we should properly ask: What value does poetry add to our lives?
As with all art, we have difficulty finding a use or value or price we can assign to poetry, no schema that sorts it into an economic priority list. Art finds its value not in utility, ROI, or cost savings but in feeding the imagination, in creating a room or space in the human soul where we can be encouraged, nourished, calmed, healed by it.
A friend recently sent me an article by the poet, Matthew Zapruder, "Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis." In it Zapruder points out that prose often has a utilitarian purpose, to explain, to describe, to elucidate, to persuade, and successful prose stays the course to its conclusion, never wandering off on a tangent.
Or we walk with the poet who is complaining about the busyness of her days and her lack of time to write because of a stack of laundry waiting to be ironed. She also mentions she has to take the dog to the vet and that suddenly reminds her of the homeless couple she saw on a street, their shopping cart stacked with their belongings. They treat each other with such love and respect that in spite of the stale-sweat smell around them, the beauty and dignity of their lives shines from their eyes through the dirt on their faces. And the love between them and their brown and white mongrel radiates in their faces and in its wagging tail as they share their meager lunch with it. The poet invites us open our imaginations to a world unknown to us. To imagine the humanity we have in common with that couple. Perhaps we suddenly find ourselves more open to empathy and compassion. We discover a reverence for all humanity.
Poetry helps to imagine what others feel, their pain, their losses, the futility of their lives, and also to imagine the beauty and dignity of their lives despite their hardships. Poetry helps us become more sensitive to the of the world around us and to others no matter their color, status, religion, sexual preference, country of origin. We learn empathy and to treat others with love and compassion.
Perhaps in this age in which, by many accounts, attention spans are getting shorter, people are isolated, spending more time online, and many want to get away from the violence and horror in the world, poetry can open up ideas and feelings to help assuage the pain that seems to fill our world. A short, effective poem that fits nicely onto a small screen may be more apt to be read than an editorial or op-ed piece. Poetry that feeds our imagination and opens spaces in our minds for beauty and joy and truth and empathy and compassion and reverence can heal our anxious souls and help us see our way back to our humanity.
2018 WyoPoets Spring Workshop, April 27-28 in Cheyenne, and was the juror for the soon-to-be-released 2018 WyoPoets chapbook, This Box for Dreams.