I attended a terrific panel discussion this evening, made all the more compelling by its location: Virginia Military Institute. The panel explored Poetry and Crisis, and here is the question they were asked to address, and a tentative answer:
Is poetry reserved for beautifying and preserving our private moments, or does it also play an important role in public life? From Whitman's elegies for Lincoln to commemorative 9-11 poems and the current Poets Against the War movement, Americans in times of crisis have felt a need for language more sculpted, compressed and vivid than ordinary discourse, and on such occasions they have written and read and listened to poetry as if it had the power to clarify their thoughts and emotions.
The panel consisted of R.T. Smith, Editor of Shenandoah; Ted Genoways, Editor of Virginia Quarterly Review; Lesley Wheeler, a poet and professor at Washington & Lee University; and Sarah Kennedy, a poet and professor at Mary Baldwin College.
One of the highlights was Rod Smith reading Billy Collins' poem