A philosophical discussion

Why Do We Read and Write Poetry?


Ars Poetica

Poets wish either to profit or to delight, or to deliver at once both the pleasures and the necessaries of life. Horace

I sit in the Art Cafè L’Aquila, Italy, contemplating the purpose of poetry. Is there any point in writing it anymore? Who reads it, really? Perhaps other poets. It is undoubtedly the least popular form on Medium.

There are many reasons for this uneasy dislike. One of my students once referred to poetry as “listening to a cat screech after being hit by a shovel.” Quite poetic of him, I might add.

Other students found poetry to be too complex and abstract. How were they supposed to figure out that Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt” is about Tudor politics under King Henry VIII and the courtship of Anne Boleyn?


Perhaps this is why there is a perception of elitism surrounding poetry. Some readers need cultural capital to understand the historical nuances of a poem.

For some reason, I’m compelled to read and write it anyway.

First Century Roman Poet Horace addresses the why of poetry in Ars Poetica, writing that the purpose of poetry should be to instruct, inform, and educate the audience. Reading Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poetry, students learn about unbalanced relationships in the 16th-century Royal Court.

At the same time, poetry should be pleasing and enjoyable to read, not grueling torture, which so many readers feel when approaching a poem. Horace also held that poets have a duty to be well-versed in literary tradition — striving for excellence in their work. Quality, not mediocrity.

For Medium Poets, it means not pressing publish until a poem has been edited and edited again until it is just right.

“I rewrite until I’m sick of the piece, then I know it’s done.” — Maya Angelou

Then, there are critics throughout history who loathed poetry. Plato, in The Republic, argues that poets are not truthful or informative, as they base their works on imagination and not knowledge. Plato believed that poetry is a dangerous form of expression because it presents false and illusory ideas as truth, arouses emotion, and leads to the soul's corruption.

He also suggested that poets negatively influenced society as a whole as they base their opinions on emotion, not logic. Thus, they should be banned from the “ideal state.”

Aristotle, Plato’s student, had a more complex view of poetry. He argued that poetry could educate and inspire people but also stir up base emotions and corrupt the soul. The Greek Stoics also chimed in on the matter, taking Plato’s side and proffering that poetry undermines reason and virtue. Poetry could be a possible source of moral corruption.

Aristotle and Plato via Wikimedia Commons

During the Middle Ages, some Christian philosophers, such as Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, maintained a negative view of poetry. They believed poetry might distract people from the pursuit of spiritual truths.

By the Romantic Period, the debate over the value of poetry was in full swing. In 1821 Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English poet, penned “A Defence of Poetry” as a response to the scathing attacks on poetry and poets arguing that poetry is not just a decorative luxury but an essential aspect of human culture. Poetry can inspire and elevate humanity, challenge oppressive social structures and bring about social change. Social change and to challenge oppressive political and social systems.

To Shelley, poetry is one of the highest forms of human expression that enables readers to venture into the most profound aspects of human existence. Poetry provides a bridge to understanding the myriad facets of lived experiences throughout the globe.

When we get to Charles Bukowski, the perception of the highest form of human expression takes on yet another interpretation. Bukowski believed that the purpose of poetry was to express raw, unadulterated emotions and to give voice to the experiences and struggles of everyday people.


In his gritty, realistic style, he writes:

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers. It’s that easy and that hard. It’s like a smooth bowel movement, which you don’t even have to think about.

For Bukowski, writing is a natural cathartic process that should challenge poetry's traditional conventions. Bukowski writes for the middle class and addresses alcoholism and the struggles of the working class.

I, too, write for the working class. My poetry lets loose my emotion and imagination to explore the possibilities that exist when I conjure them.

Poetry provides a safe space to address my fears. I can probe the What Is? The Why? The How Come? The How do I cope and live in a world I no longer understand? I can have what William Butler Yeats suggests as a quarrel with myself.

I liken most of my poetry to a Hegelian Dialect in which there is a progression from a thesis, a statement, or an idea to its opposite or antithesis. The tension between the two is sometimes resolved through synthesis, reconciling the opposing ideas, and forming a new thesis, a new question to ponder. It’s a contradictory outpouring of truth trying to reconcile the contradictions. Like this one:

As Audre Lorde so beautifully writes: Poetry “lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

Maybe so. I’m not sure, honestly. I’m not Horace; I do not instruct and delight nor elevate humanity. So far, from it. My poems are more along the line of a necessary Bukowski movement. Smooth or strenuous, it’s there, and it must come out.

And so I ponder why I would have others read such personal musings. Why do I write them?

Why do you read and write poetry?



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Mary Louisa Cappelli, MFA, JD, PhD

Top Know Nothing Writer. Curiosity leads me through an Imelda Marcos labyrinth of way too many interdisciplinary degrees https://marycappelli.