Off and talking …

Poet Mark Doty opened the 26th edition of the Seminar last night with the John Hersey Memorial Address, on why poetry matters, and will continue to matter. “Poetry goes on, no matter what, as long as people are breathing and speaking,” he said. He told us that poetry is the attempt to express the individual self in writing, to raise language to the level in which it can “convey the precise nature of subjective experience.” He quoted from several poets writing about illness, including Robert Lowell, Adrienne Rich and Sylvia Plath and even had the audience repeat back a line from Lowell (“I hear my ill spirit sob in each blood cell”).
Poetry, along with other forms of art, is a natural reaction and defense against the homogenization and globalization of society, Doty said. “Art is never made by committees, resists the focus group, cannot be marketed, and truth be told, cannot be sold,” he said. Poetry is “paradoxically precious and absolutely worthless” (at least as a commodity).
My favorite line of the night was a near-throwaway, which came when Doty was quoting from poet Hart Crane. “Hart Crane loved Key West,” Doty said, “though he was never actually here.”

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