Poetry Out in the World

Returning the literary art to public prominence


| October 27, 2005


In 1955, Allen Ginsberg rousted the poetry world from its quiet library carrel with a raucous debut of Howl at an art gallery in San Francisco. After that delivery, the Beat-held belief that poetry should speak to an audience and impart intense personal experiences caught fire. As Jonah Raskin's article in Common Ground declares, the reading 'took poetry off the musty printed page into the lives of listeners.'

Fifty years later, poet Robert Hass is working toward a similar end. Known for his well-observed nature writing, Hass aims to translate his poetic devotion to the natural world into a means that can influence the public's views and environmental policies. Rather than push with agenda-driven poetry, Hass has taken activist approaches off the page, such as helping to found a nonprofit and creating an innovative college class. In a Grist interview with Claire Cain Miller, Hass says that poetry by itself rarely triggers political movements. Instead, he says, 'Poetry becomes an expression that filters into the world slowly.' And as it trickles down, he believes the poetic message can heighten and alter consciousness, changing the way people think about their world and their environment.

In an interview with Conscious Choice, poet Robert Bly points out some recent examples of poetry thriving in the minds of the public. Among them is the prominence of poetry in the Islamic world. In Iran, Bly says, every household has a copy of the famous poet Hafez's work on the dining room table. The Minnesotan poet also relays the story of when poor weather grounded Pablo Neruda's plane in a Chilean village. The townspeople insisted that he give a reading. When Neruda complied, he paused because he'd forgotten a line. Lucky for him, the crowd continued reciting where he'd left off.

Go there >>Howl at Fifty

Go there too >>For Better or Verse

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