Skip to content

One Reason Poetry is Important

October 14, 2011

Last night, my son Sid and I went to a poetry reading. I will go blue in the face trying to explain why it was important to be there. I am glad that I did not have to explain why to Sid, that for some reason, he knew, that he would go there for more than the several out-loud laughs he had or for the treats that did not come until after the reading.


It was important to be there. It was important to learn, remember, and respond to and from those words, the ideas, the emotion. How much can we learn from poetry?


Last night’s lessons: They are about poetry, art and life, and why humans need all three.


We learned that there are things that we will say in poems that we won’t say to our parents, won’t say if we are shy and won’t say if we are pretending to be polite at the expense of telling the truth. That there are things that “people” will say in their sleep, and you can make wonderful verse by just capturing those words. We say, “people,” but in the poem, it reads true, reads “lover” or “the one I love.” Sometimes we are so shy, but how else do we learn what people say in their sleep?


I was reminded that the devil is someone who will ask you to accept a deal that he himself would never accept. And that such men will call themselves gods in order to justify their carnivorous appetite for human mortals and their love and their souls.


I was reminded of what it takes—what factors must be in place—for a grown man to take the life of a boy: how he gets to take the safety of other children and women to whom he is privileged to become too close.


I was reminded that the collection of people with whom I share last night’s event is a sufficiently rare collection in that we all understood that to take things like these men is wrong.


We learned that we had a place where we could talk about it, even if changing the world would require us leaving that comfortable space. We were happy to know that just as those snippets of art moved us, we, too, could move people and the world will change just a little.


And it is time to write. For all of us, it is time to write, and share. And we won’t have to explain why poetry is important, because, today, even though I put them to paper, I am at a loss for words.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. ben permalink
    October 14, 2011 4:48 pm


    I never told you this but I want you to know that you are a great writer. I hope you did not have my creative writing teacher at St. John’s who could not understand what you or the writers during the 60s and 70s were saying and promptly gave me a D.

    • October 14, 2011 10:31 pm

      Thanks, Ben for the kind words.

      I never thought of myself as a writer until Barbara Freedman had some very supportive words to say about my writing during my junior year at St. John’s and Jon Hassler tolerated my earnest desire to put something good on paper. I think I avoided English classes long enough to not have wound up with any of those profs. I’ve heard stories, tough. I would have been easily crushed.

  2. October 18, 2011 5:57 pm

    I had the humbling honor to be quoted in a sermon by Jennifer Schultz last Sunday. Glad what I’ve been paying forward was paid forward toward the sacred. It is a great message and I was touched to find myself a part of it. It is the first MP3 link at

  3. October 20, 2011 11:41 am

    Cool that you and Sid can share such things as poetry readings! I love that!

    I used to enjoy having ‘deep’ conversations with my kids about poetry, art, philosophy, and such. Thank you for stirring those memories.

    But, why would you think you have to explain ’till you’re blue in the face’ why it’s important to be there to a smart guy like Sid?

    • October 20, 2011 11:58 am

      I guess that is part of the point, about explaining.It really does not work, and most people are "smart enough" so that it doesn't have to be explained.We just have to listen–and I think a lot of the time, that is what poetry is, especially when it is daring.

      It is kind of like the slave songs, with the hidden plans for escaped imbedded in the verses as the fields were worked.The people for whom it needs to be explained are not the ones who need to hear, anyway.The cool thing about poetry and music and most art, I guess, is we all can hear something, and I will try not to explain it.

      Maybe it is the explanation that gets in the way of those deep conversations, and since you are an artist, you don't go about explaining and that is why you get those conversations.

      One thing I have to get over is trying to get Sid to write his poetry.He is quite good, but does not want to do it.I have to learn to let it be and it will come out when he's ready–when it's ready.In the mean time, it is fun to put him in front of people who have the love and joy of creating things with words, feelings, ideas and impressions. Clarence White 651 659 0564 h

  4. April 6, 2012 7:03 am

    Reblogged this on The Clarence White Blog and commented:

    April is National Poetry month. I and eight other Givens Foundation Retreat Fellows are working of pieces for a reading on April 24th, some of whom will share poetry that Tuesday night. (It’s at Intermedia Arts at Lyndale and 28th in Minneapolis at 7 o’clock, if you can make it.) While I work on my piece, I will share a post from this fall that more aptly fits today.

    I wrote this after Sid and I attended a great reading at ArtStart in St. Paul with Bao Phi and Ed Bok Lee. Next week, we will attend a reading featuring Kate Kysar reading from her latest book, PRETEND THE WORLD and Phil Bryant, our Givens Foundation Emerging author mentor, from his latest book, STOMIN’ AT THE GRAND TERRACE. (ArtStart/ArtScraps is at 1459 St. Clair Avenue, Saint Paul.)

    Read some poetry. Write some poetry. It’s important.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: