Poetry is a world language. It catches and releases the world in its other life, the one the daily discourses of theory and politics and commerce and digital chatter overlook. No matter which language it finds expression in, poetry speaks for each of us in our deepest hurt and highest aspiration — it catches better than any other literature, possibly any other art, the inner life of the actual world, and the felt sense of what it is to be human. It overhears the music of the intelligence of things and says them as if reminding us of who we really are and what this is all really about.
Poetry has always served these purposes, redeeming language and reminding us of the carnal and sacred nature of things — forgiving us for being human and at the same time holding us to account. It makes order of disorder. It writes the world in a grain of sand, as Blake put it. In a poem each of us is all of us.
Poetry’s provinces are the local and the universal — never the nation or the empire. Its realm is what it feels like to walk around, knowing ourselves at once eternal and mortal, in a human body; its geographies are this one human heart, this one enormous moment (as Francis Webb put it), this one gesture, this one place — each of them a metaphor for all such hearts and moments and times and gestures and places. Its voice, in whatever tongue, is our own voice, the one we often fail to hear or speak.
All this has been said by poets and about poetry in every culture across the ages. But we need to keep saying it and recalling it. For although nearly everyone turns to poetry — the natural language of grief and delight, despair and ecstasy, and ordinary contentment — when love ends or begins, when living is hard to endure, and life is hard to make sense of, poetry, nonetheless, is a hard case to make in a world that runs on prose and cliché; poetry’s case is especially hard to make these days, in a fast and pixelated world, in a loud and hasty, abstracted world, too much of which runs too often on technology, sentiment and cant.
No matter which language it finds expression in, poetry speaks for each of us in our deepest hurt and highest aspiration. It captures the felt sense of what it is to be human.
Poetry is the world we neglect (and exploit); it is the poverty and the divinity, the depravity and the kindness, we are all capable of; it is the life we forget, if we’re not careful, to lead. It divines moments and magics “deep down things” (as Hopkins put it) we otherwise miss, and it makes of them sound worlds, some of which we seem to recognise as the home we forgot to find, the hearth we were unable to keep.
So for these and many other reasons, a day that celebrates poetry across the world, the world that poetry is and the old news it tells, the beauty it cries, the sanity it brings, the confusion it stays — is a day, though few, in their business, will notice it pass, more significant than most on any calendar in any culture. Asking more of language, poetry asks more of us; telling more than it knows, it lets us grow wise.
We need, more than we know, poetry to be made; and I hope it always will be made and that it will be more widely read and respected than it is: for it refutes fundamentalism and refuses platitude and re-awakens us to our common humanity, to our human beingness, to the wonder and peril of the world; and it calls us back to the work of justice that it falls to each of us to make of and in and with our lives."
The School of Education and Social Work's 2018 Writer-in-Residence will be officially launched with a Sydney Ideas keynote event on Wednesday 23 May.
The program has been generously supported by The Copyright Agency, a not-for-profit rights management organisation that ensures artists, writers and publishers are fairly rewarded for the reproduction of their work. The agency’s Cultural Fund provides grants to creative individuals and organisations for a diverse range of projects which aim to enrich Australian cultural life.