Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Poetry's Purpose

Above is Joseph Brodsky, dead Russian poet. Below is a passage from a short essay by Leopold Froehlich in the October issue of Poetry.

I am dismayed when I hear questions about the utility of poetry. How do you use poetry, and what is it good for? This is odd. Poetry is song. No one asks, What use is song? What use are birds? Poetry has no use. It matters because of its inutility.

"Poetry is not a form of entertainment," wrote Brodsky, "and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but our anthropological, genetic goal, our linguistic, evolutionary beacon."

People go out of their way to ignore this beacon today, but they do so at their own peril. "By failing to read or listen to poets," Brodsky wrote, "a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation -- of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan -- in short, to its own."

Maybe Brodsky had this right, and this is the highest purpose of poetry, or song: It keeps us from listening to fools.

(The last word is magically rendered for our convenient appropriation by top-dog L.A. all-around artist Ed Ruscha.)