Poetry: Give It a Try

Apr 20, 2016

Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petry wrote a column a few years ago asking if poetry was still vital enough to change anything. Poets and poetry lovers reacted strongly, sending recommendations to enlighten her and encourage her to "get out more." Petry says that column haunts her more than anything she’s ever written, enough to follow it up with a defense - and an olive branch.

But, she's not alone. Every age of poetry has its skeptics. Shelley had to defend his art against an attack by Thomas Love Peacock. Robert Frost had to defend against writer and critic Edmund Wilson. Walt Whitman was fired from his job with the Department of the Interior after publishing "Leaves of Grass." Poets scorned in one age are often embraced in the next. 

At its best, poetry brings a clarity of language that is beautiful. Poets find the words to say what we can't find the words to say. Robert Frost described this clarity as the "momentary stay against confusion." 

Today, we defend -  and also challenge - poetry. 


  • Jay Parini - Writer, poet, and the author of six books of poetry, most recently, New and Collected Poems, 1975-2015. He is also a professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College in Vermont 
  • Margaret Gibson - Poet, Professor Emerita, and author of many books of poetry and prose including, Broken Cup, winner of the 2016 Pushcart Prize, and The Prodigal Daughter, Reclaiming an Unfinished Childhood
  • Alexandra Petrie  - Writes the ComPost blog for the Washington Post and is the author of A Field Guide to Awkward Silences

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Colin McEnroe, Chion Wolf, and Greg Hill contributed to this show.