Eternal art form opens a window to the soul
A response from Richard James Allen, artistic director of the Poets Union Inc and festival director for the 1999 Australian Poetry Festival, in the Australian newspaper to Gavin Atkins an Opinion correspondent (7/9/1999) who wrote: "Poetry should be dead and National Poetry Day an opportunity to view the corpse twisting in the wind. It’s about time somebody cut it down."

Eternal art form opens a window to the soul

"You cannot kill poetry unless you wish to commit suicide. Poetry is the resonance of our deepest selves, our inner music. As the seashell holds the murmur of the sea, so poets capture in their poems the rich murmur of our humanity. There is no more to fear from falling off the end of a line of poetry than cartographers had to fear about falling off the edges of the flat world. There is nowhere to go but here, nothing to discover except ourselves.

All the ways in which we experience ourselves – as communities, as individuals, as nations, as animals, as gods, as spirits, as biologies, as technologies, as inside and outside the walls and veils of a thousand illusions and archetypes – all these are to be found in our long traditions of poetry.

To turn our backs on poetry, to pretend it doesn’t matter, to treat it as an obscure or outmoded art form when it has proved over centuries one of the most flexible, adaptable and adroit, to teach it badly (what a crime!) – as if a poem had a single thing to say, a trick question to be deciphered and then forgotten – is to turn our backs on the fullness of our humanity, its richness and complexity.

Poems are not gardening manuals with sets of simple instructions. A poem does not tell you how to plant a rose, it brings you to the moment of flowering. Poems are like maps to buried treasure, what you dig up is yourself. Then do you ask, "Do I have any resale value?". Do you say, "I can’t sell this feeling therefore it doesn’t exist?" Do you say like J8immy Stewart’s George Bailey at the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life, "My life is worth no more than its insurance policy"?

Wake up! Have you been brainwashed? Poetry is the antidote. Take some quickly. You’ll find it all around you in myriad forms, each resonating with your whole being. Hurry to a bookstore or a library, dash to a poetry reading, call your local radio station and demand they play the latest spoken word CD, bookmark the newest interactive poetry web site on your computer, reach up your own bookshelf, take down a dusty old book and read it to your child. Poetry is a legacy of dreams, it cannot be destroyed, it will not go away, it is passed from soul to soul in the endless relay of life.


Poetry is what we carry
what we give away
what we leave behind
what we lose
what we inherit
what we forget
what we remember
what we fight
what we fight for
what we pass on
what we won’t sell
Poetry is where we draw the line.

Richard James Allen, artistic director of the Poets Union Inc and festival director for the 1999 Australian Poetry Festival.

Back to Poetic license