“The meaning of poetry is to give courage… (Keillor)

The meaning of poetry is to give courage. A poem is not a puzzle that you the dutiful reader are obliged to solve. It is meant to poke you, get you to buck up, pay attention, rise and shine, look alive, get a grip, get the picture, pull up your socks, wake up and die right. . . .

People complain about the obscurity of poetry, especially if they’re assigned to write about it, but actually poetry is rather straightforward compared to ordinary conversation with people you don’t know well, which tends to be jumpy repartee, crooked, coded, allusive to no effect, firmly repressed, locked up in irony, steadfastly refusing to share genuine experience—think of conversation at office parties or conversation between teenage children and parents, or between teenagers themselves, or between men, or between bitter spouses: rarely in ordinary conversation do people speak from the heart and mean what they say. How often in the past week did anyone offer you something from the heart? It’s there in poetry. Forget everything you ever read about poetry, it doesn’t matter–poetry is the last preserve of honest speech and the outspoken heart. All that I wrote about it as a grad student I hereby recant and abjure—all that matters about poetry to me now is directness and clarity and truthfulness. All that is twittery and lit’ry: no thanks, pal.

~ Garrison Keillor, Good Poems for Hard Times (from Introduction)

8 thoughts on ““The meaning of poetry is to give courage… (Keillor)

  1. Brian Dean Powers

    I’m not sure “directness and clarity and truthfulness” always promote courage. Once in a while we have to howl our despair, although those tend to be the poems I keep to myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I agree. But undoubtedly certain poems resonate with us and give us courage (and permission) to express our own despairing howls. To know we’re not alone, that someone, somewhere, has felt similarly I think encourages us to keep going.

      Does Mary Oliver’s directness in pondering a black snake or sunflowers give me courage? Not necessarily, but she gives me new perspective, encourages me to see differently, and that willingness to see differently (especially in our stubborn world) perhaps *is* a form a courage all its own.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wondered if ‘twittery’ meant Twitter, but based on his book’s publication date in 2006, guessing not. I think it’s fun (?) trying to have true, heartfelt conversations with casual acquaintances but then again I never was much of a poet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh funny, I wondered too but didn’t dig into it until you brought it up. But you’re right! Twitter launched in July 2006; and while the paperback published August 06, the hardcover came out September 2005. I thought maybe he revised his introduction, but I found a review that quotes from the same selection I did.

      Interesting how a word totally changes instinctual definition. “Twittery” had a meaning all its own until that little blue bird happened along.

      I think memoirists (as are you), have a comfort level in (or a desensitization to) sharing intimate pieces of ourselves that non-memoirists (even most poets!) don’t have. At least in poetry you can use metaphor. Plus the Internet makes it easier too and has definitely broken down some of my walls. I’m still fairly socially awkward, but I think that’s because I don’t care for the small talk or frivolity Garrison mentions. Once you get used to sharing authentically, it’s hard to go back. But I find it does encourage others to share openly.

      Hmmmm. You always make me think… Thank you! ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Jim. Even the daunting epic poems of hundreds years past…most which I still don’t understand…can still resonate with us at different times, different lines and stanzas can still move us. That’s what I love. Being moved by something. The meters and form etc etc I can appreciate but to feel something? Oh man.


Comments are closed.