Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Uses of Poetry

In her readable (and impressive) 'Graven with images’ Nicola Shulman gives a biography not of Sir Thomas Wyatt, but of his poems.  She points out that his poems have survived their critical dismissal for the simple reason that they were written to be used and still can be used as they were intended.  A Wyatt poem offers the reader the shock of recognition and the possibility of appropriation: the words describe a situation, and offer the reader a vocabulary for it. As she shows, this is probably why the  poems were probably written. To be used. By people other than the poet. 

She writes:

Though it is not approved for serious readers to seek their own experience in literature, self-recognition is what most people want out of love poetry, in Wyatt they find it directly.(p.16)

I suspect for most people outside the academy, this is still the dominant use of all poetry.  I suspect the self-congratulatory myth that serious readers are above this is one of the reasons so much poetry goes unread and so many academic discussions of poetry sound so fatuous. 

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