Wednesday, September 26, 2007


*yesterday's essay. Not my favorite essay ever, but one of my favorite ideas for an essay ever. You don't have to read this if you don't want to. *

Essay #1: The Defense of Poetry


It has been stated that truth is the absolute defense. I am an individual assigned to defend the value of poetry, and I have an opportunity in the introduction of this essay to choose one of two paths. I can follow the path of the fool and regurgitate the words I assume the audience wants to hear, or I can stand up for truth and that which I really believe. I choose truth. I am taking a risk of entirely missing the mark on this assignment and being misunderstood by others. I feel an obligation to pursue that which I believe, and therefore I launch into this essay, doing my best to explain that which dwells in my heart.

A very wise friend of mine once made a statement that I entirely disagree with. He wrote, “Without poetry, life would be meaningless.” As a sensible and reasonable individual, I can not accept that statement as truth. I know too much of life, too much of metabolic processes and love between two individuals to believe that poetry is the true decider of a life's worth. Because I know that that statement is false, I am forced to reject it. I have no room for falsehoods in my life.

Our society is inundated by those who regurgitate and echo the refrain that my friend so nobly chorused. Why does society accept that statement and repeat it like some pledge of allegiance? I believe that the statement has become a cliché, uttered so often that the truth of it isn't questioned, it's just uttered again and again. Nearly every artist and high school student has been forced to listen to the statement in one form or another. “Art is a Rose in full bloom / Life without art is Death after Doom.” Does Darlene Lewis really believe what she wrote in her poem “Life without ART”? I don't know who Darlene Lewis is, but her statement resembles my friend's very closely. No matter the reason that particular poem was written, or why any number of similar poems and essays and songs were penned, the idea that without art life is meaningless has been absorbed into our social consciousness. Billy Collins, in “Introduction to Poetry” says that “all they want to do / is tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it.” Are we perhaps trying to make poetry fit the description we have placed on it? Do we as robots force poetry to be the measure of the meaning of life? Collins reminds us that we have a tendency to make poetry be things that it is not. I believe that this is happening now. Poetry, which is not the meaning of life, is being taught in public schools and popular culture to be the meaning of life.

It is the mark of a wise man to question a cliché. It is the mark of a brave man to stand up for what he believes in. It takes an individual with courage and wisdom to admit that one does not see poetry the way the rest of his or her peers do. I give honor to those brave men and women who disrupt an English class in defense of truth. They have stood and continue to stand against the falsehood that is the cultured robot's anthem. How could life be meaningless without art or poetry? Life is too brilliant for that! They know that life without poetry isn't meaningless, and it is for that reason that they must and do reject poetry. It is not a hatred or ignorance of the art form, but rather a rejection of the philosophy that poetry is everything. It's not about the poetry, it's about how the poetry is packaged and sold to them. How can one accept poetry when it's definition according to society is unacceptable to that individual?

I understand and sympathize with these persons. Their plight is not unknown to me. I am an ex-poetry detractor. I see the value of poetry, and preach that value to all who read this essay. There are parties in the world who wish for me to say that I have seen the error of my ways and have since changed. This is not true. Rather, I have seen the truth of my ways and have been strengthened by those truths. I am not the one who is confused about poetry. I am a poetic rebel. I see the beauty and value of art, and yet I have a firm belief that without art and poetry our lives would still be full and meaningful. The difference between myself and the cyborgs is that we disagree on the true importance of poetry. The poetic zealots say that we're doomed to be clones without it, that poetry is everything to everyone. I believe that poetry is an optional endeavor, that it has much to offer, but that it is not a compulsory thing. One can be a true man with a meaningful life without loving poetry.

My rebel theory says that a poem is like a shovel. Archibald MacLeish, who is clearly not a rebel, says in “Ars Poetica” that “A poem should be wordless / As the flight of birds.” and “A poem should be equal to: / Not true.” I think that Archibald has been deceived by the robot's anthem. He is looking for and supporting something that is not necessarily there for all people. For the rebel writing this paper, a poem is not like a flight a birds, a poem is like a shovel. A shovel is only useful if a man is around to use it. Otherwise it sits and digs no holes- it doesn't fulfill the measure of its creation. Poetry is likewise dependent on humanity to fulfill its worth. Poems exist to enlighten men, but how can poems enlighten men if there are no men to be enlightened? Without an individual to use the tool, either the shovel or the poem, the tool's existence is irrelevant.

To appreciate and use poetry we need to understand poetry, and to understand poetry we must know what it is not. We can not be confused about its identity. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in his poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity” explores the absolute necessity for poets to find the true identity of whatever they are poem-ing about. “...and all without mistaking / any thing / for what it may not be / for he's the super realist”. If it is important for a poet to not mistake one thing for another, it is doubly important for us to not mistake poetry for that which it is not. Poetry, no matter how much we may want to believe otherwise or how many posters in English classrooms say so, is not the silver bullet. It is not the end all. It is not the only means to accomplish something. A. E. Housman in “Terence, this is stupid stuff” uses a character to remind us that “malt does more than Milton can / To justify God's ways to man.” Poetry isn't your only option, and it will not make your hair grow back and your ex-girlfriend love you again. Poetry is not the true measure of life. Life can have meaning without it. Poetry has no cosmic heartbeat. We cannot afford, as a society interested in truth, to confuse these issues.

After that diatribe is would be easy to assume I have rescinded back into my old ways, that I am not converted to the philosophy of poetry. I spent the last paragraph lambasting the poor thing. I went so far as to accuse it of being of this world and mundane. Be not confused, I have a deep love for poetry. I believe I have a deeper and purer love for poetry than most, In fact. For I see poetry as its true self. I am not in love with a romantic facade, I am in love with poetry for what it is.

Poems, just like shovels, are tools. They can aid mankind on its quest. The value of poetry is that one man can share his experience or thought with another man through a permanent medium. He can express that idea to another man, and that other man has an opportunity to gain something from it himself. It allows mankind to share the collective wisdom that has been accrued since the beginning. Shovels allow mankind to dig better holes. They are tools.

Poems are beautiful and worthwhile because of that value, that sharing that man uses it for. The beauty is in the solid good that it does a man. That's the value of it, nothing abstract, just the good it does as a tool. I defend poetry because it helps individual humans understand themselves and their world. I defend poetry because it has practical value and insight to offer those who seek it. I defend poetry for what it is; my defense is pure.


Frissa said...

First, I just want to say that I really enjoyed your essay. It was very well-written and much more persuasive than others I have read (including my own). To add to it I wanted to say that you are right about life not being meaningless about poetry. Poetry exists because life is so meaningful. Art has sprung as a way to express the beauty we find in simply living life. So, good for you.
Second, your essay makes those who love poetry feel like they have been tricked or brainwashed into this state of mind. It's a little harsh but yet...still effective.
So good job on your essay and I hope Mrs. Parrish appreciates it.

P.S. I wanted to laugh when I read your essay because to anyone besides you it proves just how intimidating you can be. I don't mean any offense or rudeness so I hope this is not taken that way. I think you're great!...even if you do intimidate people.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha agreed!

Rachel Frost said...

I really enjoyed this, but may I argue, life is meaningless without poetry if you are a poet, and that is all you know. Poetry becomes that person's life, and without it, their life truly becomes nothing. Just something to think about.