POETRY MATTERS | A gentle poet gives a timely, passionate defense of the poetic.


Life is energy, and energy is creativity. And even when individuals pass on, the energy is retained in the work of art, locked in it and awaiting release if only someone will take the time and the care to unlock it.

— Marianne Moore

YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS |  For almost forty years, I’ve begun every morning by reading poetry and, usually, writing it as well. I tend to read classic poets, especially Wordsworth, Whitman, Dickinson, Hopkins, Frost, Yeats, Eliot, and Stevens. I also wade among the contemporary poets, especially Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Charles Simic, Charles Wright, Louise Glück, and Mary Oliver. I refer often to these poets in Why Poetry Matters.

Poet Jay Parini

As I say in [my book], poetry is a language adequate to our experience. It teaches us how to live our lives, how to locate and describe the inner life. I believe very confidently that poetry enhances our sense of the spiritual world by attaching us closely—almost physically—to the material world. The Scriptures didn’t end when the Bible was set in stone. In fact, prophets arise constantly, and poetry is a form of prophesy, telling us things we need to know. It is, as Ezra Pound says, news that stays news. It refreshes our lives by refreshing our sense of language, making reality visible in unique ways.

I argue in various ways in Why Poetry Matters that poetry offers a way to sanity and clarity, helping us to see ourselves and our world. It offers modes of expression, refining the language of ordinary life. It is the “common language heightened,” as Hopkins says. By offering a language adequate to experience, poetry creates a reality that is equal to the reality of experience and therefore makes reality palpable, “real,” understandable.

This is a deeply personal book, the result of long reflection on the art of poetry, as a reader of poems and a poet. I’ve also been a teacher of poetry for as many years, and Why Poetry Matters is to some degree a result of trying to help students to read poetry with genuine appreciation and feeling. My hope is that this book will make poetry available to a much wider audience by talking about its essential aspects in straightforward but suggestive ways. —J.P.

Click here to view a sample of Jay Parini’s superb book.

Click here to listen to an interview Jay Parini gave to Yale University Press.

ISBN: 978-0-300-12423-1 Cloth
Yale University Press, 224 p. $24

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist, and biographer, is D. E. Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College. Among his many books are five volumes of poetry, most recently The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems. He lives in Weybridge, VT. He is the author of Why Poetry Matters.


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