Poetry News

What poetry teaches us about consciousness

By Harriet Staff

PRI's The World in Words podcast has a lot of ground to cover in 27 minutes: Is consciousness the ability to use language to articulate our thoughts or is "consciousness a language in itself?" In order to tackle this Big Question, host Patrick Cox looks at two subjects, the bilingual brain and poetry. Why poetry? Cox posits that because of its particular relationship to senses and emotions, "poetry is often an attempt to reach beyond language toward that so-called raw feeling." While it's an obvious contradiction that humans use language to do that, the fact that poets stretch language as far as it will go still puts them closest to those inaccessible abstractions.

But it's the function of poetry that interests the Big Show's Alex Gallafent. He explores what poetry does for those who write it and for the particular community that reads it through the words of people not necessarily known for being poets but who turn to it when nothing else will suffice. How does one process a profound tragedy or cope with being taken hostage, and does making a conscious, personal choice about the vocabulary one uses allow for the poem to have a greater personal impact in others? Creating a language of poetry can also be a reaction to being constricted by a narrow language in which one is forced to communicate, as in the case of a lawyer whose poetry is an escape from the confines of legalese.

Originally Published: March 10th, 2011