The January issue of Poetry features a great conversation between Stephen Burt, Daisy Fried, Major Jackson, & Emily Warn about the social role of poetry. They took turns reflecting on the question and answering one another. While I was at times upset at Daisy Fried's cold dismissal of the social element in poetry, I was most moved by the words of Emily Warn:
Poetry binds solitudes. It enacts a central human paradox: we exist as singular selves, yet can only know them through our relations. A poem creates a presence that is so physically, emotionally, and intellectually charged that we encounter ourselves in our response to it. The encounter, which occurs in language, preserves and enlarges our solitude and points out our connections. Pyrotechnic poets, such as Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Adrienne Rich, set a charge that reverberates among multitudes, changing the shape of our social relations and, inescapably, our individual and collective consciousness.
~Emily Warn in "Does Poetry Have a Social Function?"
Major Jackson did great yeoman's work to critiquing the slighting of "political" poets while they are alive and then heaping accolades once they are dead -- he offered up June Jordan as one example. He also writes:
True revolutionary poets are stripped of their laureateships or never reviewed in these pages, for some reason probably having to do with the worn-out argument of lack of aesthetic worth or little merit. Martin Espada, John Yau, and Nikki Finney are just a few of many poets who write poetry that "embraces experience in its full complexity," yet their books never receive a nod in Poetry.
~Major Jackson in "Does Poetry Have a Social Function?"