Been reading links sent to me by friends this morning while posting photos of the Rose poetry stage and found this amazing quote from Major Jackson, about the function of poetry (full article here):
The function of poetry is that it does not have any function beyond its own construction and being-in-the-world. For this reason, poetry makes everything (and, yes, nothing) happen, especially in a consumer society prone to assessing and dispensing value to everything from lap dances to teachers' salaries. Whether as a form of witness, as a medium which dignifies individual speech and thought, as a repository of our cumulative experiences, or as a space where we "purify" language, poetry, like all imaginative creations, divines the human enterprise. This is poetry's social value.
I hope this does not sound like an exercise in ambiguities. If so, let me add another: one of poetry's chief aims is to illumine the walls of mystery, the inscrutable, the unsayable. I think poetry ought to be taught not as an engine of meaning but as an opportunity to learn to live in doubt and uncertainty, as a means of claiming indeterminancy. Our species is deeply defined by its great surges of reason, but I think it high time we return to elemental awe and wonder. Such a position is necessary to our communal health.
I try to teach my students the full magnitude of what can happen during the reading of a poem. The readerly self, if the music and strategies of the poem are a success, fades away to assume the speaker's identity, or the poem's psychic position. Once a reader has fully internalized the poem's machinations, she collects a chorus within her and is transformed. This ritual generates empathy and widens our humanity. These might seem like grand dreams, but it is just such a belief in the power of poetry that spurs my pen to action, whether I am getting paid or not.