naive diatribe

A snippet of a naive but heartfelt diatribe in response to a friend's query today:

I guess my response to the student who thinks poetry is a waste of time could be some diatribe about the value of human expression and how human cognition is closely related to our modes of expression, so we learn so much about what it means to be human when engaging with fiction and other types of cultural products, even if we don't find personal interest or beauty, etc., etc. Or, that the thorny problems of being human are often best (most interestingly? poignantly?) addressed not in a documentary (although those are valuable), but in a piece of writing that seems to do something other than tell a story.

Or maybe I'd stick Paul Celan's poem "Todesfugue" under her eyes and, after having her read it aloud, I'd say: "If a person who has been through something like the Holocaust can make art out of horror, out of pain and incomprehension; if someone can look at all the damage and destruction humans can wreak on each other, and produce art...not for art's sake, but for something else...(for expression's sake?), then reading poetry matters. If we can learn one goddamn thing about humanity from engaging with the act of putting words on a page in a way that is not about reporting, simply describing, or simply telling, but rather in a way that uses human language almost against itself (if we believe naively that language is about communication), then we've got something to learn from reading poetry. If science and history have not been able to answer (fully or successfully) the important questions about why humans do what they do, what humans mean when they love, when they face death, when they lie and cheat, when they hurt one another, when they fucking destroy each other, then we still have something to learn from poetry."

We are the creatures who make meaning, who hurt (and who know that writing "who hurt" -- in English, at least -- has both an active and passive meaning).