Poetry Out in the World

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
Raskin’s article in Common Ground
declares, the
reading ‘took poetry off the musty printed page into the lives of

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
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

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