Saturday, June 29, 2013

The uselessness of poetry

Here is a bridge across a river. Here is a poem on a sheet of paper. Which is useful and which is useless?

Actually, neither is inherently useful or useless. The bridge is useful to me if I want to cross it. The poem is useful to me if I want the experience of reading it.

I have arrived at this conclusion because I have been thinking about the uselessness of poetry. I am among the millions who write poetry and my poems are among the hundreds of millions that will never be read by anybody other than the author and perhaps one or two other people.

This is the case even if poems have been published in a book or in literary journals, as mine have. Some of my poems were broadcast on the radio, too, so I suppose for half a minute or so they had a wider audience. I suppose that a few  listeners must have found the experience rewarding.

I am not sure that this provides a sufficient reason for writing poetry, any more than one could make a strong case for building a bridge that is crossed, perhaps, by one person every two years.

Still, if the bridge builder derives satisfaction from the work itself and if whoever crosses the bridge on rare occasions derives satisfaction from that, I suppose the isolated bridge has a usefulness to builder and user. 

For the writer of poetry it is the experience of writing and crafting that has to be enough. If that is not enough, then give it up. That's my conclusion so far anyway. More on this at a later time, maybe


kate anklechained said...
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RichR said...

I stumbled across your post, and it's very relevant to something I'm trying to write about why I as a reader, enjoy spending hours of my time rereading a fantasy series that is not great literature, but is great entertainment. Who's to say that one genre/type of literature is better/more useful than another? I spend plenty of hours reading new work that would be considered "real" literature, but need to balance that with hours wallowing in sentimental entertainment.

Maybe that's a reaction to fiction that "failed" to win me over (although it was clearly not a failure to the author)? A poem can be very useful to give others strength, share wonder, or make the world a more comprehensible place. A bridge can be useful to get one to where one wants to go, but the same bridge can afford enemies access to you, and would be judged less useful in certain circumstances.

Poetry helps us make sense of the world, helps us be in it. Bridges help us get around. Both are necessary.

Christy Morrin said...

Anything which is written well is never useless and the time invested is never wasted. Whether the written word is a poem, song, essay or just a collection of random thoughts, the craft of the wordsmith will convey different meanings, different interpretations and insights depending on who is reading the piece. Keep writing Padraig. Your work conjures up plenty of imagery and reflection which is personal to me and our family.