the stubborn, essentially worthless, production of one person

Romantic notions of the self were formed in resistance to the new industrialism. If people could be put in front of looms for 14 hours a day, their only use as producers of goods to be sold... Doesn’t it make sense that it would be necessary to proclaim the brilliant depths the soul could plumb? Wasn’t there something in us to be affirmed besides our use as an economic unit? But Wordsworth and Keats and company could not have foreseen the scale upon which an assault on individuality would be mounted by an increasingly global capitalism. Beauty, soul, art itself: those luxury goods become one more item on the economic scale...

And at the same time, it is no exaggeration to say that poetry is thriving... I’ve never known young people to be as keenly interested, as open to poetry. I think this is because art is never made by committees; resists the focus group; cannot be market tested; cannot, if the truth be told, be sold. Sure, you can buy a book of poems, but no one is going to get rich from this undertaking. And no one is going to invest in poetry futures or trade poetic commodities. It is the stubborn, essentially worthless, production of one person, one sensibility, giving form to how it feels to be one’s self. That is paradoxically precious, and absolutely worthless. A poem has no value, cannot be possessed. You can memorize it, give it away, sing it, e-mail it to everybody you know. It isn’t yours, or anyone’s. It could only have been made by the one who made it, but you make it your own as you take it in. You could imitate the poems of others, but that isn’t really the point: the goal is to make the poems that no one could have made but you, whatever those turn out to be. That is why poetry is, at this moment necessary, irreplaceable of inherent value. It is not threatened, not in the sense that people are about to stop writing it or reading it or thinking about it, it is threatened in a larger sense in that its root which is the particular idiosyncratic stuff of selfhood may itself whither... To what extent can the forces that run the world homogenise us? We don’t know the answer to that yet.

- Mark Doty, from his keynote address "Tide of Voices" at the 2008 Key West Literary Seminar. Listen to the whole thing here.

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