What Is the Value of Poetry?

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In the opening poem ("matters of great importance") of my collection, Solving the World's Problems, I ask a simple question: what's more important / writing a poem / or building a bridge...

At least, the question starts off simple enough, but then it continues to spiral out into giving thanks, stocking chairs, delivering chairs, managing systems, and so on. But there are times when I waste time worrying about which really is more important. There are times when I wonder, "What am I doing here?"

Here being writing poems and devoting a tremendous amount of time and energy to a poetry blog. After all, there's not a lot of money in writing poetry--even for a publisher like Writer's Digest Books. But there's more to measuring value than dollars and cents, isn't there?

Why Am I Saying Any of This?

Every so often, there's some kind of "death or uselessness of poetry" post or article that runs all viral on the Internet. So I've been meaning to write a post on why I think there's value in poetry for a long while, but it was still simmering in me until I received this message on Facebook from Aleathia Drehmer, a poetry advocate who lives in New York:

Robert,

I just wanted to say thank you for everything you do with the PAD challenges. The one in November helped me get over the death of my cousin and brought me back to writing after a year of near silence. This challenge is helping me get over the death of my mother. She passed in January and this is her birth month.

I actually don't care if I ever get published again. Life has taken on a new meaning now and I honestly am getting back to the roots of writing when I was a little girl. Just writing because my heart says so, because it is a way I can communicate my little slice of the world with my dad and any friends that care to read.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me back something I had lost and thought I would not find again. Grief can be a great eraser sometimes. I'm just glad it hasn't erased me yet.

Have a great day.

Aleathia

Aleathia is not the first person to send me a message like this, and I know she won't be the last. But for me, this displays exactly what the value of poetry is, and it's something more important and primal than shelf space at a brick-and-mortar bookstore or an online sales ranking.

Poetry is something deeply human.

What Does Poetry Mean to My Life?

Anyone who's read this blog for a significant period of time knows that I'm not afraid to get personal, but let me get really personal. Poetry has helped me get into relationships, deal with break ups, absorb deaths, and other feelings. For instance, I was sexually abused over the course of two years as a child, and poetry helped me unbottle all those emotions and feelings that I had bottled up from that period of my life.

In college, I went so crazy on poetry that I burned out on it. In fact, I'd convinced myself that I was a horrible poet and that I should just focus on fiction, a genre in which I was actually winning some awards (and money). So I kinda wrote some poetry, but mostly I didn't. That part of me fell dormant, and I thought I'd never get it back.

Then, I separated from my wife and my uncle died, and I had these huge gaping holes in my soul. I tried running some of the emotions out of me, but what ultimately helped me conquer these developments was poetry. The act of writing poems helps me tap into parts of myself that often don't make sense until they're down on paper.

What Does Poetry Mean to YOU?

I've shared what poetry means to me. It's helped me deal with anger, frustration, heartbreak, headache, hopelessness, isolation, depression, and more. It's helped me be human. That's the true value of poetry as far as I'm concerned. Everything else is icing.

What does poetry mean to you?

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Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer's Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World's Problems. In addition to editing Poet's Market, he manages the Poetic Asides blog, writes a poetry column for Writer's Digest magazine, edits a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter, and more. He's married to poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). He's given up trying to figure out which is more important between writing a poem and building a chair; it's really a chicken-egg argument, because both are necessary and valuable. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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