Ideas

The Enright Files on the transformative, confounding power of poetry

Poetry may not have the same place in our culture that it once had, but it remains an art form of singular power to those who immerse themselves in it. It has the capacity to inspire and enthrall, and to befuddle and infuriate. It can electrify a society, make you see the world with fresh eyes, or simply leave you mystified. On this month's edition of The Enright Files, conversations about the power of poetry to change the world or drive you to distraction.
Allen Ginsberg's landmark poem "Howl" is one of the 20th Century’s most important poems, one that would jolt a society and awaken a generation. He's pictured here with a group of beat poets at the Albert Memorial in London, in 1965. (M. Stroud/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Listen to the full episode53:59

We encounter it and often wrestle with it in school. We hear lines of it quoted in speeches. We sometimes hear it recited on solemn or momentous occasions. Some of us might even read some from time to time just for pleasure. 

But for most of us, most of the time, poetry plays a marginal role in our lives. So marginal that it's easy to forget that many of the oldest, most enduring and most influential cultural artifacts in the world are poetry: The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad and The OdysseyThe Aeneid, Beowulf, the poetry of Rumi and on and on. 

Those are poems upon which entire cultures have substantially been built. But poetry has done much more than built national myths and defined cultures. It has the capacity to inspire and enthrall,  to befuddle and infuriate. It can electrify a society, make you see the world with fresh eyes, or simply leave you mystified.

On this edition of The Enright Files, conversations about the power of poetry to change the world or drive you to distraction.

Guests in this episode:

  • Jason Schinder is an American poet. He talks about Allen Ginsberg's landmark poem, Howl, which has sold well over a million copies. He is the author of The Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later
  • Eleanor Cook is Professor Emerita of English at the University of Toronto. She talks about the poetry of Wallace Stevens who is sometimes described as a "willfully difficult poet." His poems are energetic, erudite, and utterly confounding. Eleanor Cook is the author of A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens and Poetry, Word-Play and Word-War in Wallace Stevens.
  • Ben Lerner is an American poet, novelist, essayist, and critic. He talks about our complicated relationship with poetry and why he thinks writing poetry is "an exercise in repeated disappointment." Ben Lerner is the author of 10:04, Leaving the Atocha Station and The Hatred of Poetry.
     


**The Enright Files is produced by Chris Wodskou.

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