In the days when communication was not accomplished with a pair of opposable thumbs on a tiny keyboard, messages and information reaching its intended in a matter of seconds, poets were engaged (yes, I mean PAID or otherwise materially supported) to roam the streets or to sit at court and inform, explain, analyze current events. Poets were generally considered both politician and polis itself, making sense of the confusing, the contrary, the controversial. Societies depended upon their poets to be the centre of most anything of import. Poets were revered and listened to in light of decisions and direction. Then we got "practical" and poetry fell into the realm of the over-educated, the elite, and it became something only high society or academia continued to embrace. It slid into the back rooms and smoky coffee houses as "subversive protest" and over the top fringe activity during the 60s. Free verse replaced (in large part) formalism and even then, it could not compete with dime novels and sleazy shock literature. We wanted to know about Hannibal Lector's bizarre killing habits, not read 32 rhymed couplets on the American experience.
For those of us who find the structure and passion of poetry compelling, it was grim news. We could count on mild amusement to outright recoil at the mere mention of what we write. Say to someone that you are a writer and there is great interest in your work, UNTIL you mention that your genre is poetry. You are seen as the kook in the room, the person without REAL work or worth, as a hobbyist whose work ought to be given away or bartered for a few copies of the journal that is charitable enough to publish one or two of your poems. You sigh and think about writing a novel, something that might give you more relevance in social situations. You don't WANT to write a novel, but you do think about it.
The answer is simple really: this crazy world needs dissecting and resurrecting. We need poets to do this hard work.
In this overblown, overfed, overhyped world we need poets to again step up and make sense of the frenzy. We need structured passion, a jaded but engaged eye on the landscape of our lives. When there is war (have you read the papers? it's been on the news) we need poets to celebrate the gory glory and decry its very existence and morality. When oil gushes forth unchecked by man;s best and worst efforts, we need poets to step into the gap and bemoan. When all seems helpless, hopeless, hapless we need poets' humor to distract, if just momentarily. We need the limerick, the sonnet, the aubade. We need the ballade, the rondelle, the haiku and ghazal. We need poets working into the night to wag their collective fingers (ink-stained as they may appear if only figuratively). We desperately need to read poems that say "we are all in this together and damn the obstructionists in Washington" and we need to read poems that keep us from killing ourselves and others.
So be it. I am a poet. I don't want to be anyone else. It's in my DNA. My ancestor, William Dunbar was a poet of the Court of St James. He criticized (and held accountable in ironic tones) royalty and its foolish ways. He described the society of his day in verse that made sense of it all. I proudly carry his blood and his bravado. I would not change that.
Keep on poets, don't stop showing the world to itself in all its glorious warts and wobbles. Keep the notebooks filled and the ink flowing. Try to keep your heart healthy and your blood pressure just short of blowing. We need you alive and engaged. Above all else, write. Write every day. Don't worry about money or honors. Just write and send out your work. You never know who will read it and be changed.