Poetry makes nothing happen?

YeatsFor poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper; it flows south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

In an article in The Guardian Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley reacts to the old question: "Does poetry do anything?" He quotes from Auden's elegy "In Memory of WB Yeats":

"Those who want poetry to make things happen forget the last line of the above: that poetry is itself a way of happening. But what does it mean to be 'a way of happening'? Does it mean anything at all?"

Astley answers:

"But we should start from a position that poetry, like music or art, is not supposed to make anything happen, except in our responses to it."

And ends his essay with the following:

"But in Ireland people still think poetry is important. If our own politicians spent just a couple of minutes each day reading these kinds of poems, they might be better fitted to carry out their duties more responsibly. We might even be able to trust some of them then to act in our interest in what they do to tackle the problems of environmental destruction and global warming."

"Might" is the right word in Astley's ending. Might or hope. There is no indication, leave alone quarantee, that reading poems makes us "better" persons. That doesn't mean that poetry could not make anything happen. Within us.

Recently, my "quality manager" (I'm leading a 500+ company) said to me: "You have a remarkable sense of reading between people's lines."


No comments: