Reviewed by Mark Garcia-Prats
In the opening line of his book, Why Poetry Matters, Jay Parini concedes, “Poetry doesn’t matter to most people.” That comes as no surprise to anyone aware of poetry’s relevance (or lack there of) in popular culture. Contrary to popular belief (especially among poets), poetry is not “under attack,” writes Parini, adding such “paranoia is pointless,” and in fact, “one of the blessings of poetry is that it has no commercial value, no position in the marketplace.”
Parini goes on to describes in elegant yet accessible prose how poetry provides “a language adequate to our experience.” He argues poetry challenges the reader to interpret metaphor and the subtleties of our always morphing language, allowing us to discuss the intricate relationships of self, history, literary tradition, religion, and nature. With constant reference to a wide array of poets and poems to underscore his argument, he elevates his book to one of linguistic and poetic theory, rather than mere boosterism.
Though it is unlikely Parini’s book will create many “poetry converts”, Why Poetry Matters is a refreshing book about the (non-monetary) value of poetry to those willing to accept the challenge (and invest the time) to understand it.