Elizabeth Alexander’s State of Poetry Address

Elizabeth Alexander on the paradox of unprofitability.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Elizabeth Alexander: What’s quite powerful about poetry is because it doesn’t really have much of a money marketplace, it has always survived. It is not dependent on patronage, it is not dependent on, people going out and buying books so that the poet can stay in shoe leather. Poets always know that we have to support ourselves in other ways and so I think that paradoxically, perhaps, that’s a very good set of conditions with which to know that if you must make your art, you will continue to make your art.

It also is an inexpensive art form when you think about it, I mean, there are no real supplies. Yes, it takes time and time is money but I think poetry has always found its way; it’s grass in the cement cracks.

 

Elizabeth Alexander: I would say, first of all, that it never hurt anybody which is to say go ahead and try it, right? I mean, there’s sort of no risk involved. I think that when people get all carried away and, you know, unhappy about feeling that poetry is being forced upon them, my response is often, “What it’s going to hurt you or anybody else if you read this poem? What’s going to happen if you take five minutes and read this poem?”

So that’s to begin with. And I think that poetry arrests us in wonderful ways, it makes us look at the material world in ways that we might not have thought otherwise.

So in the tremendous reward of a common object situation, feeling, emotion, described in language that makes us understand it more deeply, more richly, a little bit differently, is one of poetry’s great gifts and rewards.

The moment of pause that in essence, embodies the value of meditation, the value of not hastening through every utterance and every moment, the necessity of stopping and rethinking sometimes; all of that is what poetry kind of models for us.

I think what we ask poets in particular should do, artists as well, but poets in particular, is to dig deeply in emotional well springs, in the fields of experience, to dig deeply, also, in the language, and in a sense, do the feeling for those who at that moment can’t.

 

Recorded Feb 24, 2009.