What Poems Are For, Ctd

Noah Berlatsky counters Meena Alexander’s thesis that “poetry is useful because of its useless essence, not because of its individual meaning”:

When poets or writers have been persecuted, it’s generally not because of some abstract contradiction between tyranny and poetry. It’s because the persecuted poets said specific things the tyrants didn’t want to hear. Anna Akhmatova faced persecution not because she was a poet, but because her poetry was explicitly anti-Stalinist. In contrast, Pound and Mussolini got along swimmingly. Vitor Jara was murdered because he took a stand with Allende, but the British Empire didn’t have a problem with Kipling.

The point here is that poetry, as poetry, is, in fact, useless. Because poetry, as poetry, is nothing. There is no essential “poetry” that has a meaning and a use absent context, any more than there is an essential “music” that can, or should, lend profundity to the sounds of Miles Davis, Miley Cyrus, and Gonzo eating a rubber tire to “The Flight of the Bumblebee.”