Reasons to be Cheerful
You canít eat poetry. Rain goes right through it, and it doesnít
burn for long enough to really keep you warm. Poetry doesnít
provide a roof above your head, doesnít give you a bed, bath or
bread; it doesnít save you from traffic jams, and you canít
smear it over your legs when you go to the beach.
Poetry doesnít occupy any hotel rooms. Poetry doesnít fill
restaurants, and neither does it help the growth of the middle
class in the city centre. Poetry doesnít care about the
North/South divide, nor the one between East and West, and it
canít stop continental drift, the rise in sea levels or
In a school class of 30 children, only 0.2are touched by poetry.
This translates to 1.3 children in an average residential area,
and 12.4 in a city with a population of 200,000. Poetry barely
touches urban illiteracy rates. Itís not on television, doesnít
influence viewing or listening figures, and doesnít keep a
single person from alcohol, drugs, smoking or a fatty diet.
Poetry doesnít ban wheely suitcases. It pays no role in
collective bargaining, doesnít urge stakeholders towards
horizontal clustering or lure people to the polls. Poetry
doesnít attract major sponsors, it holds no sway over public
debate, and it doesnít level out top salaries.
Poetry doesnít fill the gap left by withdrawing government and
is not armed against the flipsides of the digital revolution.
Poetry doesnít warn about gas leaks or excessively high levels
of particulate matter;it doesnít stop a single militant
traveling to Syria or help you journey safely from Africa to
Italy. Poetry doesnít keep a single boat afloat, or an airplane
in the sky, or a car on the road.
Poetry is tough. Tricky. Eccentric. It is contrived language. A
secret language used amongst friends. Museum language. Barrier
language. Opaque language. Anti-communication. Perverse language
that bypasses all rules and conventions. Elitist language that
reminds us of the limits of our brains, again and again. It is
an elusive, arrogant, intellectual language. Language that
alienates and discriminates. Partisan, anti-democratic language.
Poetry is the soft language of a tiny voice, spoken by a
No one gets rich from poetry. Not the poet, not the designer,
not the printer, the editor, the publisher or the distributor,
not the bookseller or the festival organizer. Poetry evades all
laws of economics, all social codes. Poetry is elusive, and in
its elusiveness it fuels your doubts and increases your ability
to fail. Poetry is arguably the most precise language when you
falter. And the most unstable language when you are fully
conscious. When poetry pulls you into unaccountable visions and
the darkness of night thoughts, it is the torpedo from the
depths, the inventory of our confusion and our shortcomings, of
our resistance to perfection. It is the language that seduces us
and overwhelms us when we think weĎve mastered it, shakes us
awake when we think we must rest and convinces us that we are
wrong at the moment of our conviction. It is poetry that offers
us possible words when something momentous happens to us. It
offers a complexity that is consoling.
Poetry is more than the words it speaks. It is, as the poets in
this collection express, more than speech without sound, more
than words that donít sleep. It is the power of words, the
mastery of the original thought, delicate and elusive, bobbing
at the height of the bushes. It is the visible side that
announces the colour, a virginís scream in the rainbow; it is a
beauty worth protecting, cheek to cheek. It is the literal
potential of things, a mimicry of migrating birds, the union of
foliage and sun, a contract with the clouds. It is everything
that becomes visible during defrosting, and the truth we forget
because of remembering.
Poetry is, as the Dutch Poet Laureate Anne Vegter recently said,
the stool we climb onto when we want to peek into other
realities. Poetry is able to bring countries like Holland and
India cheek-to-cheek. What poetry is, it is in itself. ĎThat
which cannot be conceived through anything else must be
conceived through itself,' Spinoza once said. Or, poetry isnít
about something, it is something. Poetry, ladies and gentlemen,