Poetry’s hidden power to break down barriers (via The Guardian)

Full title: “Only connect – poetry’s hidden power to break down barriers (via The Guardian)”

Poetry connects. Wherever I’ve worked, I’ve seen poems making bonds between people and disciplines. At a conference between the Poetry Society and English Place-Name Society, everyone got on like a house on fire, discovering their shared faith in the importance of syllables. Lovers, too, get together over poems, for Orpheus draws everyone towards him and brings his audience together. Whenever the same poem matters to two people, it generates a bond between unspoken affinities, for an effective poem doesn’t put all its wares in the window. It is a delicate calibration of heard and unheard, sound and thought, combining the clarities of day with its mysteries of night which depend on internal and associative connections. On first reading you may only sense these, like catching the glint of lacquerware in candlelight, responding to something you can’t understand unless you’re in shadow.

That’s why King’s College London is hosting a series of events called “Poetry and …”. Taking place in the extraordinary fusion of byzantine and gothic in Gilbert Scott’s chapel, we have two speakers, usually a poet and someone from another field aware of poetry’s relevance to their work. Each talks from their own perspective, reads poems which bear on the territory, and the ideas fertilise in the middle. Last summer it was Poetry and Climate Change, Poetry and Science, Poetry and Origins. Now it’s Poetry and History with Roy Foster, Poetry and Mapping with Jerry Brotton and poet Kei Miller, author of The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, and finally Poetry and Connection with psychiatrist Sushrut Jadhav, who works with marginalised communities – the homeless in London, Dalits in India.

The way psychiatrists listen for connections that open routes for healing bears upon connective processes at work in any poet writing a poem, and any listener making it their own. It is all in the linking. “When we feel several objects at the same time,” wrote Coleridge, “the impressions are linked together.” The poet’s imagination “yokes” images that originally had no connection. The hook of a story snags your attention, you read on to discover what happens next. But the hook of a poem is more emotional, more secret. To discover what it’s about, you need to go back, not on. You find more in it on a second or thousandth reading because it fuses the world and the self, connecting not only outwardly, to something beyond, but inwardly to something deep inside. It communicates before you understand and can strike you, as Keats said, as the wording of your own thought, so readers need it like part of themselves. It is when Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice is desperately trying to track down a poem that she collapses in a public library. Poetry is a royal road out of and into the unconscious, the deepest form of communication, and “poetry of relation” was Seamus Heaney’s phrase for that delight in response which powers the writing of a poem.

Click here for more information.


The Guardian | Kings College London

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