What is the use of poetry? By Stella Wulf



It seems to me that the World, and not just his wife but his entire family, are busy versifying. So why is there such a disparity between the number of people who read poetry and those who write it? All those tortured souls purging themselves of their heartbreaks, their let-downs and their injustices! It may be cathartic to write but does it really make good reading?



I was born in the 1950’s and back then 'self expression' did not form part of the everyday vocabulary. In my day (there, I said it - damn)! Well, let’s just say that back then, one had to grit ones teeth and get on with it.


I began to read poetry at around the age of ten. My Father kept a well stocked bookshelf which ranged from the Karma-sutra and such like, at the top, down to classical and popular fiction at the bottom. Fortunately, the poetry section lay within my grasp. I fell instantly under the spell of the words, the imagination and the music of writers such as Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. They swept me up on a glorious tide of beautiful, funny and poignant stories woven with intriguing and beguiling words - a tide of creativity and imagination that was to shore me up for many years to come.


At the age of fifteen I discovered the magic of Dylan Thomas. By that time I'd been living in Wales for almost half my life. The lilting language and impossible place names were music to my ears. Wales was my home. Finally, the school had presented me with something exciting and stimulating; 'Poem In October!' It was my thirtieth year to heaven. I was captivated from the opening line. By the time we'd arrived at . . . the twice told fields of infancy, That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine, I was hooked. The power of those words still moves me to this day.




Dylan Thomas opened my eyes and my heart to the joys of poetry. I devoured it, I wallowed in it, I yearned for it, but never once did it occur to me that I could write it. I thought wistfully about it on more than one occasion but no more than that.




It was many years later whilst working on a restoration project, that a strange thing happened. I was deeply immersed in the mundane task of painting doors, when a poetic notion crept out of the depths of my subconscious mind (something akin to the woodworm out of the woodwork I was painting) and formed itself into what looked astonishingly like a poem. That was an epiphanic moment. The moment at which a door opened inside my head and I became a writer.




Whether inspiration springs from heartbreak or emotional distress, or from a sense of wonder and joy of the intoxicating power of words, is no matter. Poetry is a means of self expression. But it is not enough to spew up our innermost feelings upon a page and expect people to empathise. Self expression does not mean self indulgence. A true poet will reinterpret those raw emotions and give back something sublimely beautiful or succinctly pure or simply a different perspective that others can relate to; with honesty and without pretension. That is the magic of poetry.




Paradoxically, at a time when more and more people are communing with their muses it seems that fewer and fewer are buying poetry books. The BBC's, More Poetry Please reveals that there is a proportion of the population that still enjoys mainstream poetry. Even those who profess to not liking poetry will, when pressed, dig deep and come up with a fond memory of a poem that engaged them in their childhood. The Poems on the Underground poster campaign has also proved popular. But it seems that the mainstream publishers are giving up the battle. Smaller, specialist publishing houses have stepped into the breach, pushing poetry further into the recesses of elitism. Britain has a wealth of talent worthy of greater exposure.




The truth is that most contemporary poetry is simply beyond the reach of ordinary people - it is an intellectual process that holds no interest for them. Like my Father’s bookshelves, poetry should fall within everyone’s grasp. It should be enriching all our lives. It is vital to our development as human beings, and the world would be a poorer place without it.


Martin Luther King employed all the rhetorical devices of poetry using strong imagery, metaphor and rhythm. I Have A Dream, is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of oratory in American history. Afghan women risk their lives daily by expressing themselves freely in poetry - fighting for their rights and their freedom with the power of words. Their poetry is their sword. Creative thinking equals creative doing. With England’s young adults falling abysmally behind the rest of the industrialised world in literacy skills it is time to re-evaluate.




A stable future lies in imbuing our children with imagination, creativity and vision, enabling them both as a united force and individually, to express themselves in a sensitive and considered way. I truly believe that poetry can help us in that endeavour. In an age where our children have incredible pressures put upon them yet are leaving education with a lower rate of literacy than that achieved by their parents, it is time for change. Perhaps, like Dylan Thomas, we have to look back before we can look forward.


By Stella Wulf