Why Poetry? The discussion begins…

Avid Reader (193 Boundary St West End) have declared September, ‘Poetry Month’ and to celebrate they are putting on some mighty fine events. The first of these is a discussion / reading taking place this Thursday night. To pick at the seams of the question, ‘Why Poetry?’ they have assembled Bronwyn Lea, Nathan Shepherdson, Ross Clark, Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence Emily XYZ and this Lost Shark.

Full details of the event are:

Date: Thursday September 9
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Venue: Avid Reader, 193 Boundary Rd, West End
Cost: $5.00
Bookings: Call 3846 3422 or book online at: http://www.avidreader.com.au/index.php?option=com_registrationpro&view=event&Itemid=0&did=80&shw_attendees=0

Avid’s monthly magazine is also brimming with poetic musings, reviews and other articles. You can download a copy of it from their website: http://www.avidreader.com.au/ but I thought I would post my article answering the question ‘Why Poetry?’ to get the discussion started…

Why Poetry?

Brisbane is definitely a bright star in the poetry sky, hosting major events such as QLD Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word (August 27-29), The Australian Poetry Slam and the annual Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence Program alongside a number of regular events, including Brisbane’s longest running poetry/spoken word event, SpeedPoets. And now, Avid Reader are throwing a month long poetry party in September, featuring a panel of established poets (incl. Bronwyn Lea, Nathan Shepherdson, Ross Clark, Graham Nunn and 2010 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence, Emily XYZ) talking about the importance of poetry in our lives and readings from some of the bright new things currently setting the Brisbane poetry scene on fire. So why all this interest in poetry? Well, to give you a short answer, I couldn’t go past this quote from ‘poet laureate of the down and out’, Charles Bukowski:

Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.

For me, what Bukowski is getting at here is poetry’s ability to embrace and elevate all that makes us human. When you hear it, you should be able to see, as if in a flash of lightning, the words crystallise, and if you are open to it, the poem will contain more than images. Poetry invites us to cast off habit and reconsider life with new eyes and at its best, as Emily Dickinson put it, can take the top off your head.

I strongly believe that enjoying poetry is as natural as drawing breath. As a boy I spent many summers sitting beside my father watching Australia’s great fast bowler, Dennis Lillee tear through various batting lineups. Each time the stumps would buckle or Lillee would throw himself into his trademark appeal, shouting ‘Howzat’, my father would look over at my brother and I and say, ‘that was poetry’. Of course my father did not mean that it was literally poetry, he was simply pointing out that Lillee’s bowling had the qualities one normally expects of poetry – grace, surprise, beauty, rhythm. My father was not much of a poetry reader, but he, like all of us, had an idea of what poetry is and should be.

We know this because poetry is not firstly in the words; it is there to be discovered in the current of the river, the rush of the street, the strange angles of a spider’s web, a home cooked meal. Our senses are bombarded with literally thousands of stimulants on a daily basis… poetry is about stripping this back and getting in touch with the things that really matter; finding the truth in the everyday.

When I tell people that I write poetry, a common response is, ‘I don’t really get it’, but the truth is, that is just a reflection of society’s needless mystification of the art. A poem is not an obscure code or linguistic puzzle, if it works, it will speak to you. But remember, it’s a matter of chemistry. Not every song you hear or film you watch will speak to you, likewise, every poem you encounter will not hit the mark, but don’t let that deter you, there is an infinite number of voices and styles waiting to be discovered and when a poem hits, it will cast its spell and make the mind sing; it will engage your imagination and draw you into its universe.

As there are a myriad voices writing poetry today, I thought I would ask a handful of the poets participating in the Avid Reader Poetry Month festivities to get their thoughts.

One of Brisbane’s new voices, Jonathan Hadwen offered this:

“…it’s the way thoughts line up in our minds, a way in which we finally make sense of experiences and situations that have been difficult to understand.  The real power of poetry is in the sharing, as by doing so, we pass on this understanding. Poetry has been around in one form or another since we have had the ability to think and communicate those thoughts, and will be around until we lose those abilities.”

2010 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence, Emily XYZ responded with zeal:

“Poetry, like all art, is part of the human condition.  The reason people say they ‘don’t get poetry’ is because we are not usually called on to use our minds that way.  Quite the opposite:  ‘daily life’ generally requires us to dumb down and stay in the lower registers of what is possible for the human mind. ‘Why poetry?’ is a question that must be answered anew every few years, and yet the answer never really changes:  because it is resistance to misery.  Because it is a swing against dehumanization and an affirmation of freedom and possibility.  Because it makes jailer-minded people uncomfortable—and that really is something that can (ultimately) (maybe) change the world.”

And, John Koenig answered with a poem of his own:

“trembling under a love blue sky the thesaurus tree bears alphabetical fruit ripening and falling to be caught by slender feminine hands of faith held up in front of inquisitive gun smoke eyes with intriguing lashes curling over the words of sweet sorrow and joyful redemption making darkness and light fill the flowering iris with colour overflowing to flood the optic nerve becoming a raging river running along neural paths synaptic sparks jumping high and igniting the fire of imagination framing the question what does this mean poetry yes that’s right it’s magic”

The one thing each of these responses has in common is the passion and belief in which they are delivered. That is the power of poetry… when it hits, you are never again the same. So why not get along to one of the many poetry events happening in this fine city of ours or to your local independent book store and embark on your own quest to answer this question. The journey could just be life changing.

Look forward to reading other people’s responses to this question,


Filed under events & opportunities, poetry & publishing

13 responses to “Why Poetry? The discussion begins…

  1. it seems 2b about being alive to awareness of the extraordinary or the extraordinary inside the ordinary or maybe just ordinary truths realized in a kind of extraordinary beauty, if so then it connects us in wonder

    it may be one of the great wonders of the world

    or it may be how we can communicate more effectively

    or it may be basic heart in language
    touching the profound

    whatever, it is marvelous
    what bukowski said up there makes me think he might have hated loving it so much. its a kind of cool statement. it is full up, like a pinata or a gas tank, but it also cracks open, the candies fall out, or the car gets to a destination, he stops looks around, says ‘what am i doing here’

    • gnunn

      like a pinata or a gas tank… such a beautiful way of looking at Bukowski’s statement and poetry for that matter… it cracks open and the candy falls out. love it,

  2. Rather enjoyed this discussion about why poetry…I suspect each poet has a slightly different twist to ‘why’ they write.

  3. bruce dorlova

    if there is a single distinguishing characteristic of humanity, it’s that we are ‘meaning-makers’. the human condition is often framed in terms of being a search for meaning. of course, meaning does not exist ‘out there’ somewhere, waiting to be found, but is constructed by every one of us, over and over, in every moment of every day.

    i think perhaps poetry as an artform is unique in its potential as a site where meaning may be produced and shared. the best poetry, like music, can transcend the medium and speak directly to us. and we speak back to it. it makes meaning cohere around fragments of observed detail, and invites our response. it becomes part of the dialogue which is our engagement with the world and all things in it.

    why poetry?. because i’m human.

  4. ‘why breathing?’ — indeed, agnieszka! ‘a resistance to misery’ — indeed, emily! why poetry? because i (we) have to — because i feel WRONG if i don’t!

    great line-up there — yet again, it occurs to me i could well be living in the wrong city…it’s not spring here! 🙂

    dig it all, cane toads!

  5. Thanks for this question, Graham! I’ve been thinking about this for a few days – and I can’t quite figure out what my answer

    Answering as part of an audience, I think poetry fulfills a narrative need that novels, films & the visual arts generally don’t. I can’t really define what I’m struggling to say, though.

    As a writer, poetry allows me to enjoy playing around with words and phrases, in a way that plot-driven or more informative writing cannot. (Perhaps a weakness of my own prose there!)

  6. Ben Slinn

    As a poetry novice I am wallowing in the soothing seas of experienced voices as to why poetry.
    why? why not. Observation turned into connection,
    thoughts given life on the page. I know when I have read or heard a great poem I become envious that I have not written it, (not a good trate) but also fired up to emulate that greatness. I am blown away by how creative the mind can be, and poetry is a great way to showcase that creativity and there’s my answer CREATIVITY!!!!!!!

  7. Scoon

    Hi Graham,

    I’ve just come back from spending some time in the UK, and kind of got into open mic poetry in that time. Are there any regular open mic spoken word events in Brisbane that you can point me to?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s