Poetry is a forsaken art not for those who write or practice it, but for many others. Yet there is a kind of grace that poetry offers, something that paradoxically is hard to catch with words, an elemental rush that Shelley tries to evoke in his “A Defence of Poetry,” that extraordinary chronicle of the exalted, impossible task of the poet from which we have taken the line for today’s resolution.

Toward the start of his essay, Shelley speaks of beauty and the way by which the intuition of what he calls “this indestructible order” is something granted to the maker of art. Then comes a leap of faith. He argues artists are “the institutors of law, and the founders of civil society” — in short, legislators: what they were called in earlier times.

Now this seems to me to be a leap that could not sustain the body that sought to land, from its free fall, into some possible space of survival. Surely we need to unhook the idea of the intense apprehension of beauty and “this invisible world” from ordinary legislation, our notion of congresses and parliaments, of procedures and plenipotentiary powers.

Meena Alexander
What use is poetry

the task of poetry

January 22, 2019

The poem is an invention that exists in spite of history…In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist…Poetry’s task is to reconcile us to the world — not to accept it at face value or to assent to things that are wrong, but to reconcile one in a larger sense, to return us in love, the province of the imagination, to the scope of our mortal lives.

Meena Alexander
What use is poetry
Address to the Yale Political Union April 23, 2013

Poet

January 13, 2019

I think of the poet in the twenty-first century as a woman standing in a dark doorway.

She is a homemaker, but an odd one.

She hovers in a dark doorway. She needs to be there at the threshold to find a balance, to maintain a home at the edge of the world.

She puts out both her hands. They will help her hold on, help her find her way.

She has to invent a language marked by many tongues.

As for the script in which she writes, it binds her into visibility, fronting public space, marking danger, marking desire.

Behind her in the darkness of her home and through her pour languages no one she knows will ever read or write.

They etch a corps perdu.* Subtle, vital, un-sizable body.
Source of all translations.

Meena Alexander
What use is poetry

For us, eating and being eaten belong to the terrible secret of love. We love only the person we can eat. The person we hate we ‘can’t swallow.’ That one makes us vomit. Even our friends are inedible. If we were asked to dig into our friend’s flesh we would be disgusted. The person we love we dream only of eating. That is, we slide down that razor’s edge of ambivalence. The story of torment itself is a very beautiful one. Because loving is wanting and being able to eat up and yet to stop at the boundary. And there, at the tiniest beat between springing and stopping, in rushes fear. The spring is already in mid-air. The heart stops. The heart takes off again.

Poetry takes as its purview what is deeply felt and is essentially unsayable; that is the paradox on which the poem necessarily turns. A poet uses language as a painter uses colour, a primary material out of which to make art. But language that is used all the time and all around us — in sound bites, advertisements, political rhetoric, newsprint — needs to be rinsed free so that it can be used as the stuff of art.

Meena Alexander
What Use Is Poetry?

bride-marcel-duchamp

I think of the poet in the twenty-first century as a woman standing in a dark doorway.

She is a homemaker, but an odd one.

She hovers in a dark doorway. She needs to be there at the threshold to find a balance, to maintain a home at the edge of the world.

She puts out both her hands. They will help her hold on, help her find her way.

She has to invent a language marked by many tongues.

As for the script in which she writes, it binds her into visibility, fronting public space, marking danger, marking desire.

Behind her in the darkness of her home and through her pour languages no one she knows will ever read or write.

They etch a corps perdu. Subtle, vital, un-sizeable body.

Source of all translations.

Meena Alexander
What Use Is Poetry?