Why Poetry Matters - Giovanni's "We Are Virginia Tech"

When it's good, and when it's right, it speaks to that part of us that is deepest and most fully human. All creative art does, when it's good and when it's right. This is why those people who ignore or belittle or sideline or erase creative endeavours -- from the education administrators who decide that the creative arts are luxuries their schools can't afford to the politicians who think roads and hospitals and airports are more important -- all contribute, little by little, to the dehumanizing of their citizens.I don't want to trivialize the massacre at Virginia Tech by writing anything much about it. It has become almost too commonplace for these kinds of things to happen. Why that is we don't know; there are always easy answers -- he was bullied, he was "foreign", it was too easy for him to get hold of firearms, the university was too insecure, yaddayaddaya. It may even be that it's not as commonplace as we imagine, but the mass media, the 24-hour news stations that otherwise have to invent stories out air that is very thin, feed on real tragedies about which their audiences' feelings are not mixed. In that regard, I've since learned that the massacre was not the worst school tragedy in American history, but only in the history of television; in 1927, a man in Bath, Michigan killed 45 people, 38 children and 7 teachers, in a brand-new school. The fact that this week's massacre is being labelled "the worst" is in part a function of instant information and our need to make sense out of things that will never make sense.The thing is, tragedies aren't really measured by statistics. We think they are, and it may be a mark of our collective dehumanization that we are oddly comforted by numbers, as though they give us the ability to explain the incomprehensible. But they don't. At these times, it's art -- poetry, music, dance, theatre, painting -- that do the job we really need. Numbers speak to our brains, and lull them into thinking that they can control the uncontrollable; perhaps that's why, until Samuel came along to find Saul, Israel's God prohibited the Children of Israel from holding censuses for so long. The arts speak to that part of us that we call the soul, and they move us to behave in ways that numbers and our brains will never fully comprehend.By suppressing our creativity, and worse, ignoring the skills necessary to control and channel that creativity so that it becomes a force for good, I believe we warp it. Perhaps it's that warped creativity that leads to tragedies like this. I don't know. I do know that we are most fundamentally human when we feel, and that the manipulation of our feelings should not be left in the hands of politicians, preachers, and other abusers.So I post the video of poet Nikki Giovanni, Professor of English at Virginia Tech, delivering the closing speech at the convocation of Virginia Tech in the wake of this week's tragedy. For those of you who don't know who she is, she's one of the leading African-American poets. It is absolutely fitting that she gave the closing speech — and that that speech was a poem. Now, I leave it up to you to work out for yourselves why poetry matters.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snuc1hDDSiI]