Why do you write poetry? – Ali Alizadeh

I asked a bunch of poets the above question. I’ll feature their answers here each week until I run out or find more poets to answer the question

Ali Alizadeh says:

“I would have answered this question differently if I’d been asked it before my first novel came out (last year). I would have said something about the desire to communicate feelings, reach out to the reader, explore important and suppressed emotions, themes, perspectives, etc.

I’m not sure about any of that anymore, because prose fiction does all of those things so much more effectively, it seems.

The responses to my novel, from non-writers, critics as well as fellow writers, have been numerous, and incredibly sophisticated, astute and engaged. It seems people are really willing and/or mentally prepared to appreciate fiction so much more than poetry.

It probably has a lot to do with education. I remember studying 1984 and World War I poetry in Year 12 (in Brisbane); when studying the novel, our teacher went out of his way to define the genre of satire, the politics of Orwell’s society, the references, the story’s plot, characters, motifs, symbolism, etc. When teaching the poems, however, he told us something about the ‘beauty’ of poetry. And that was that.

So people are not really trained to appreciate poetry. So why bother with it?

Well, I suppose I agree with the philosophers, like Foucault and Badiou, who see poetry as a way to rescue language (and perhaps also humanity) from the discourses/situations of daily exploitation and utilitarian usage.

Language is often nothing other than a banal, empty communication tool at the mercy of commerce, society, knowledge, community, survival, etc, but poetry (especially since Mallarme) has been about breaking with this instrumentalisation of language.

So that’s why I’m still interested, and will continue to remain interested, in writing poetry. Poetry renders language, as Foucault might have it, ‘useless and vital’, or as Badiou has shown, poetry produces truths. I really like that idea.”

More answers next week.

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4 comments on “Why do you write poetry? – Ali Alizadeh
  1. Mark William Jackson says:

    Adam, this is a great series you’ve started. Ali makes some very interesting points, similar in vein to a discussion under the title ‘Only Poets Read Poetry’ happening on my blog at http://markwilliamjackson.com/2010/01/06/only-poets-read-poetry/ (sorry, I don’t mean for shameless self promotion, just a link for your convenience, please delete if offensive).

    I look forward to the next poet, it is great to get into the minds of good poets, I enjoy Ali’s work, and the editorial strengths he demonstrated with Cordite 31.

    • Adam Ford says:

      Thanks Mark. I had a look at your poem and the subsequent discussion and I like the different nuances that commenters came up with for the phrase “only poets read poetry”, especially the non-pejorative, non-negative, non-neurotic interpretation whereby poetry converts readers into poets. That ties nicely with my experience that the poetry I read inspires me to write my own poetry.

  2. Mark William Jackson says:

    Thanks for taking the time to have a look. I liked the different interpretations that I had not considered, and all the consequential questions that these interpretations led to, I liken the discussion to Ali’s feelings for poetry at present. My preference is for the positive ‘you become a poet if you read poetry,’ and the things I read through this ever increasing blogosphere never cease to amaze me. Thank you for creating a great forum for this type of discussion I look forward to your future posts.

  3. kind of a relief to get to the end of ali’s spray and see that he STILL did actually find poetry worthwhile, although foucault’s phrase ‘useless and vital’ is a bit annoying and vital. and i love paradoxes! but i’m certainly with mr a. on the issue of ‘daily exploitation and utilitarian usage’. for me poetry transcends — when it’s vital and useful — all that, and even most prose! and thanks, adam, for asking the question! — now for ms. lanson, i think…

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About Adam

I'm a dad and the author of the poetry collections The Third Fruit is a Bird and Not Quite the Man for the Job, the novel Man Bites Dog and the short story collection Heroes and Civilians.
contact: adamatsya@gmail.com
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