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Can Poetry save the World?

In Godard's film "Notre Musique," the palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish contemplates on the role of poetry in social/political/national conflicts. His main example is Greece. He says he is looking for "the poet of Troy." He wonders if poetry is a tool or a symbol of power, i.e. whether the Greeks took Troy because of their poetic superiority, or if their poetic superiority was a symbol of their overall superiority.

What then is the role of poetry in contemporary conflict? Can it help ease the tension between nations? Can it give power to those who need it? Can we make poetry a part of our identities, and a tool for our progress? Or have we given that right only to our technology?

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    May 26 2011: "The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words." - Philip K. Dick

    Poets are the gatekeepers between who we are and who we hope to be. As metaphor and simile are used by great poets to assimilate power and grace within an idea, a vision, and understanding of their world, poetry offers a medium of communication that can open a person's mind to an idea, a vision, an understanding of their world that they may never have imagined otherwise.

    Poets who embrace the power of their language and imagery for the benefit of humanity can move mountains and topple walls, both figuratively and literally. So, poetry can save the world.
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      May 27 2011: Hi Barry,

      Thanks for the great quote!
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      May 27 2011: Hi Barry,

      I don't disagree but would like to point out that your statement applies to any kind of media.
      Even a sculpture or painting or a scientific formula, a video, a piece of music, all forms of monologue or dialogue any form of communication can do what you describe. What makes poetry more powerful then any of the others?
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        May 27 2011: Hi Richard,

        I am not insisting poetry is more powerful than other art forms. Each art form has its particular powers.

        Reading poetry takes a certain level of focus to peel back the onion (sometimes). Other art forms aren't usually quite so insistent. I find that writing poetry is about as intense as it can get. Maybe that has to do with the kind of poetry I write, but writing a poem aout something pretty much cements the ideas written about into my memory.

        Words play a special role in consciousness. Learning to use words in general, and each particular word, is a major part of how we train our consciousness to be within a community of consciousnesses. This kind of emersion in a community of consciousnesses is where most of us are most of the time, even when we are alone. Even when we are alone we think in terms that place our thoughts in a communally shared format. So Art forms using words do have a special power over us.
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    May 23 2011: No. What it can do is inspire others to take action. That is what will change the course of history and possibly save the world.
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      May 29 2011: Ideas create that spark you mention. Then it is up to that person to ignite that spark. We definitely need a lot more inspiration to change history. What do you think is the trick that helps people apply that inspiration? How can we take that inspiration and apply it?
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    May 29 2011: Poetry is the blood in the body of free expression. Each poem that circulates both delivers essential truth and carries off waste. Poetry will not save the world. Nor will music. Nor will any individual form of free expression, whether artistic, journalistic, theatrical, etc. But to the extent that free expression is saved, so too the world will be saved.
  • May 26 2011: Shouldn't "poetry" include drama, tv and cinema, prose fiction, musical lyrics and so on? That's to say, arts that use language and/or narrative. If you include these, then it's clear that poetry changes the world every day. Here in South Korea, a popular song begins with the phrase, "It's my life!" This is the opposite of Korean traditional culture and 120 years ago would have been an inconceivable lyric here... In a very real way, this pop music "poetry" is playing a role in the transformation of modern South Korea, in this case spreading formerly Western notions of individualism. But of course poetry is also changed _by_ the world... politics, science, technology. "It's my life!" is spreading an attitude, but it's also reflecting a change that's already occurred. The relationship seems complex and difficult to parse with clarity.
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    May 25 2011: No, it's got better things to save.
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    Jun 3 2011: When I think of poetry saving the world I think of the speeches of Cicero exposing conspirators and shining a light on corrupted government or Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" which reverberates eternally in the mind of anyone who hears or reads it, or Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" (modeled largely on Pericles's "Funeral Oration") declaring that a government "of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth". These speeches were just words on a page, symbolic little scribbles of eloquent idealisms that to this day resound in the minds of even those who have never read or heard of these speeches because the ideas put forth in them were so pervasive and so poignant that their meanings and messages have echoed into the collective minds of our societies and effected the world beyond the confines of their audience. with that being said, I should also note that If poetry can save the world, then it can probably destroy it as well.
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      Jun 3 2011: Yes. I cannot listen to either the Gettysburg Address or I have a Dream without being physically shaken by the hope they inspire and the call to live meaningfully.

      Another one that moves me:

      “We're coming to the edge
      Running on the water
      Coming through the fog
      Your sons and daughters”

      "Let the river run
      Let all the dreamers wake the nation[s]
      Come, the new Jerusalem"

      (Carly Simon)
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    May 27 2011: It is interesting because many people interpret "saving the world" differently depending on the individual. I mean to some it could be everyone following the same religion. To others everyone following the same thought patterns. Depending on how what makes an individual have positive emotions toward life would reflect onto how the world would be saved.

    I see the world being saved when information becomes truly free for all human beings, education for everyone is a given, and no one dies from unnecessary hunger or lack of nutrition.

    Can poetry do that? No, but it can help. A correlation, not a connection.
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      May 27 2011: Hi Nicholas,

      You make a good point.

      I see saving the world as a matter of survival. All over the world, we are fast at work developing ever greater powers to control reality. Those powers become dispersed to more and more people. The capacity of each of us to damage each other and even all of humanity and other species grows daily. It doesn't matter whether we do that damage intentionally or unintentionally. Damage is damage. "

      As they say, "Do the math". We are headed toward a large number of catastrophes. Yet we cannot seem to muster our wits to do anything about it. The arts, including poetry , must bring our emotions into sinc with what our reason tells us we must do. Otherwise, we will remain asleep at the wheel.
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    May 26 2011: Judging from what I see of TED and also how it assigns credit I would imagine that many of my views are at odds with what constitutes the orthodoxy of this, nonethelss very fine< organization. Wordsworth or one of the other Lake District Romantics called poets the legislators of the world. Like legilators they organize all sorts of ideas and channel all sorts of activity.

    I think that in many cases the poetic contribution may be to make peace by easing tension. However, I think poets also have a very important role in promoting real leadership. The leadership that is constrained by an ideal and prone to ultimate recourses against terrible corruption by a few bodies but remains leadership. Some poets will promote inequality and nobless oblige, great-spiritedness, heroism and and enlightened hegemony. Those are usefull things and arguably there are many horrors in the world today caused by their absence.
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      Jun 4 2011: I agree, and I can agrue with Yuriy Atamaniv who says that poetry will help to save the world because it is linked to love. Poetry and art derives indeed from a deep passion but it is nor negative nor positive. Just like any power, it can be used for different purposes or can trigger good and bad things. Just remembering how Hitler was influenced by Richard Wagner or how all advertisements have an influence on our daily life. There are poems, films that I would set as compulsory for teachers, educators, if not for the students or pupils. Such is the amazing movie that helps understand dyslexia. Art is power and has an impact on our (sub)conscious. It's up to us what we make out of it.
  • May 26 2011: Everybody is talking about changing the world but nobody talks about changing its own self. If you think that you can change the world, it would be wise to change yourself in the first place as a start. If everybody changes his or her ways of doing things, the world will be a better place. However, the world can only be changed by its own adjustment. Human beings are only a transient visitor on this earth and are only one of the many species that lives on earth. Poetry can only give you an illusion that human beings are capable of changing the world, and that illusion is what makes you feel great and powerful even though it is just the opposite.
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    May 25 2011: Nobody but me :

    I am Nobody

    Nobody sees what is coming

    Nobody knows what will happen

    Nobody wants to stop it all

    Nobody breaks the doll of war

    Nobody cries for peaceful now

    Nobody thinks it will be done

    Nobody finds he is the one

    Nobody can survive the live

    Nobody will have saved the world

    Nobody, but me

    If you believe you can save the world, then you must BE Nobody. =)
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    May 25 2011: To the extent I find writing poetry interesting, it is with some hope that it might contribute to making such a difference. But to make a difference, it must be read. Who read's poetry these days, especially amatuer poetry?

    A Street Lamp (centered on the page it looks like one)

    The children look to us.
    Their children look to us.
    And their children look to us.
    The untold millions of generations
    Will not see life if we should fail
    To save their world…
    Us whole.

    The Lead Cup

    Today's the Day of Dark’ning Dawn
    When terrors grow as powers grow,
    Our powerful faults threaten all we know.
    And so, it is today the Day of Dark’ning Dawn
    When famine awaits the end of combustion,
    When all is exhausted by our consumption,
    When we await a war of mass destruction,
    When species die in mass extinction,
    When the weather grows weird,
    When the world avoids fear,
    And denies all evidence
    That horror is clear,
    That horror is near,
    By invoking
    The unreason
    Of darker times
    And the blind consensus of selfish minds.
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    May 23 2011: Maybe so. If it is profound and has the power to make people feel again, to feel another's pain or humanity or experience- maybe it can heal or inspire enough hearts to start a heart stampede to justice and mercy.
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    Jun 3 2011: Poetry can be a form of argumentation since old and great philosophers yet new and modern writers/poets used it to demonstrate, to convince, to argue, to persuade ...etc. Some used to in order to represent the reality, some used it to save the world, some to motivate, some to write, some to publish, some to tease, some to defend and others to attack.
    As you just said, politicians used it, artists used it, film-makers used it, youngsters used it and adults used it too.
    So I can think poetry can in a way or another save the World.
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    May 28 2011: Bravo..... Signore Wilkinson, la sue e una risposta primo dobbiamo salvare la parola (first save the word...not the world).
    Questa conversazione e un gioco popolare molto simpatico.
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    May 28 2011: The peoples don't need poetry to save the world, the world IS poetry and it'll save human kind...
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    May 27 2011: Poetry is a medium. Like any medium it is a tool to shape the minds of men. It moves public opinion and public opinion is what can change the world, assuming you mean our society and not the natural planet.
    Poetry as a tool is not even the best tool as it has much lower exposure than music for instance.
    Poetry is the domain of the more creative and pensive minds. That makes the portent of the message greater.
    But if power of the tool is portent plus impact multiplied by exposure, I think poetry is not the most powerful tool in the shed.
  • May 27 2011: Can Poetry save the World? Short answer. No. Poetry is just one form of communication and gives people emotional comfort in desparation. So, no poetry is not saving Greece. Greece is saved by the greek people themselves if they are wise enough to make the right decisions. If not, it's just the olives for you then.
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      Jun 3 2011: Ah, but maybe poetry has saved Greece already ? Long since gone are those Noble warriors cataloged by Homer, and diminished are the territories conquered, and dead is the classical language but little bits were preserved in jars like ancient Jam to be scooped from pages an spread thick over to little bread. Greece shall live forever so long as its poems are read.

      (Nothing can save Greece except for Poetry)
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    May 27 2011: Happy being alive and happy to be me.
    Happy on this planet and happy what I see.
    Happy where I've been and happy where I'm going.
    Happy what I know and happy how I'm growing.
    Happy being in love and happy it's returned.
    Happy in the moment and happy by choice learned.
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    May 26 2011: Poetry is often being inspired by love. and as it is know love will save the world. that's poetry will help to save the world.
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    May 25 2011: I am a poet and think its one of the most amazing things. I dont know if it can save the world, but i know it can enlighten the world. And enlightenment is key to progress and change. People are the only ones capable of changing the world and if one can change the way people think, only then can the world be saved. So indirectly....the answer would be YES
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    May 25 2011: My 2nd thought though still the answer is "NO" to your premise........

    Being universal soul Poets with their poetry all the time scared all tyrants ....... lots of example around since ancient time
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    May 24 2011: I think poetry today isnot so popular as it was several centures ago. Thus it can't be a great tool for profound ideas in people's minds. It's an important part for those who write poetry. They express their inner world on paper, shaping ideas in words. But this is only the progress of the writer, no more. We know many ancient writers and admire their beautiful and rousing poems but what about contempory ones? Doesn't it mean that today we pay little attention to it?
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    May 23 2011: I believe poetry is a tool. The messages it may convey can certainly change the world.
    • May 26 2011: talking about whether who can save the world itself is wrong. Because the world cannot be saved by anyone except the world itself. Never try to save the world because it is too far beyond the power of mankind. the world can only be saved by itself, by its own adjustment. when an adjustment occurs, mankind suffers. If mankind wants to suffer less, man must adjust their own behavior and ways of doing things.
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        May 27 2011: Hi Mengtao,

        There is something wise in what you say.

        Love loves. It is not stopped by the counsel of the probaility of impossibility.

        The world will adjust to the lack of human love.

        To suffer less, humankind must adjust itself to be a greater love.

        A poem about the needed adjustment:

        I am the Dream I am: a Tree that Bears the Golden Fruit

        That Truth’s
        Bud will bloom
        Again and again
        In you, and in me.
        I am responsible.
        Therefore I am.

        I am
        Most truly who I am
        When I am my better spirits,
        Whispering winds upon my neck,
        A wish to ride on winds of better spirits,
        Calling me out, again and again.
        My purpose has come.
        My lungs
        are filled,
        My voice,
        It is raised
        To sing of love.

        Real love. True love.
        The love that fits
        The Golden Rule,
        The discipline
        By love
        To make
        Love real and true.
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    May 23 2011: Poets' eyes are dreamers eyes, poets' soul can see the future but most of us are busy with present , so nothing changes ............alas !!!