2023: The Year of Poetry

by Bob Schwartz

[The poet’s] role, in short, is to help people to live their lives.
Wallace Stevens

I began this day, new year’s eve morning, thinking about poetry.

Chogyam Trungpa, Buddhist teacher and leader, founded a unique university in Colorado, the Naropa Institute. Among its schools is the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. A school for poets was central to Trungpa’s vision. The story is told that when he arrived after escaping Tibet he said, “Where are your poets? Take me to your poets.”

In 1941, master American poet Wallace Stevens lectured about the role of poetry during an era of crisis. The effect of the depression lingered while a new world war had begun. In “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words” he said:

For more than ten years now, there has been an extraordinary pressure of news . . . at first, of the collapse of our system, or, call it, of life . . . and finally news of a war. . . . And for more than ten years, the consciousness of the world has concentrated on events which have made the ordinary movement of life seem to be the movement of people in the intervals of a storm. . . . Little of what we have believed has been true. Only the prophecies are true. The present is an opportunity to repent. This is familiar enough. The war is only a part of a war-like whole….

What is [the poet’s] function? Certainly it is not to lead people out of the confusion in which they find themselves. Nor is it, I think, to comfort them while they follow their readers to and fro. I think that his function is to make his imagination theirs and that he fulfills himself only as he sees his imagination become the light in the minds of others. His role, in short, is to help people to live their lives.

All of which is why 2023 should be The Year of Poetry. Maybe you read or write poetry sometimes, maybe frequently, maybe not at all. Those who do know its power. Those who don’t will be enriched by it. Who doesn’t need a little help to live their lives?