Reader’s Corner: The Uses of Poetry, If Any

Poetry mosaic at the Library of Congress's Thomas Jefferson building (Library of Congress)
Poetry mosaic at the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson building (Library of Congress)

William Logan is a poet, though we shouldn’t hold that against him. He wrote with good-natured verve last week for the Times on his chosen metier and whether or not it really serves any purpose. In “Poetry: Who Needs It?” Logan’s summation of the current state of verse is notable for its directness, not to mention being just plain right:

The dirty secret of poetry is that it is loved by some, loathed by many, and bought by almost no one…

Does this matter? Is it a problem that schoolchildren who were once made to memorize at least some piece of doggerel (even if it was just something from Kipling) now encounter poetry only as that thing which they’re told is good to “express themselves”?

Probably not, but Logan’s proposal is a sound one nonetheless. Try teaching poetry again, he says:

Shakespeare and Pope and Milton by the fifth grade; in high school, Dante and Catullus in the original. By graduation, they would know Anne Carson and Derek Walcott by heart. A child taught to parse a sentence by Dickinson would have no trouble understanding Donald H. Rumsfeld’s known knowns and unknown unknowns.

If nothing else, it would beat learning all that horribly useful STEM curricula now the rage in our nation’s schools. Who knows? A few more dreamy and unemployable poets might lighten up the country.

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