A Mission of Truth?

Can poetry be a vehicle for truth?

Major Jackson asks, “Does Poetry Have Street Cred?” in September 6, 2019 article introducing The Best American Poetry 2019 in The Paris Review. 

He suggests that American poetry suffers “from an abundance of artistic dignity and not enough street credibility”. That is, its forms and messages are so artful and personal that they speak to almost no one. Poetry has become boring, and most people have set it aside as a result.

Poets face a tough challenge today, trying to capture readers from the “seductive technology that renders the inner musing of poets frivolous, irrelevant, and downright absurd.” Poetry has become poetry for its own sake, and it speaks only to an in-crowd that tends to congratulate its members equally. 

But Jackson sees signs that poets may be recovering the sense of having a mission of truth. He insists, “Our art should do more than celebrate ourselves in Whitmanian fashion, or sublimely frame our individualism, or camouflage our moral shortcomings and desperate self-regard. Even the most personal poems should break through our novelistic sense of ourselves and stabilize the mutual fate of our shared destinies, our ephemerality.”

Poets should speak out in accessible forms and language to address our common experience and the conditions of our society that are in need of reform. Poetry “grants significance to human life.” We should make better use of it, and poets should work harder to speak to their neighbors, and not just their peers.

Some good advice here.


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