Report: poetry is one of the most important tools we have for deepening our understanding of the context within which we live

What are words worth? What does our writing say about who we are? What importance does the great poetry throughout history hold in our world? If it’s important, then how do we show today’s poets that we value their output?

Associate Professor in Trinity College’s School of English Dr Philip Coleman joined Sean Rocks on RTÉ Radio One's Arena to explain how poetry takes its place amidst politics, power and profit. 

"Poetry is, in fact, one of the most important and useful tools we have for deepening our understanding of the context within which we live," explained Coleman. 

"We can think about the history of say Irish poetry in the 20th century and I would argue that every major figure… thinks about contextual concerns at one point or another. A poet like WB Yeats is probably the most obvious example. The poem September 1913 is really a poem about the relationship between economy on the one hand and art on the other."

From RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, Mark O'Flynn reports on the story behind WB Yeats' September 1913

Valuing poetry is more than just a romantic notion, says Coleman. Art has deep, intrinsic meaning in our lives and so often, that value isn’t recognised in monetary terms. 

"I don’t think it’s romantic and I think that for many of the poets and artists who really care about this issue, it’s a real concern. It’s about how art is valued. Why make art at all? Very few artists or poets make money out of their work so why do they do it? Is it ego or is it because of some desire perhaps to change the world within which they live and I think that’s the reason that they make art actually, to make that contribution." 

One example of the interplay of money and poetry is the Seamus Heaney Listen Now Again exhibition at the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre in Dublin's College Green. The government and the Bank of Ireland spent €600,000 on the project – "headline news," said Philip – but interestingly, the poem from which the title was taken, The Rainstick, outlines the problems that exist between the artist and the value placed on their work.

From RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, Sinead Crowley, Arts and Media Correspondent, reports on the opening of the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre and its Seamus Heaney exhibition

"Here you have this really interesting example of the state and the Bank of Ireland putting money into poetry, into promoting poetry, but the poem itself I think problematised the idea of poetry’s value and it suggests to us that, you know, sometimes a poem’s value or a poet’s body of work value isn’t necessarily appreciated in the moment when it comes out but it can take time. That’s what Heaney means I think when he says "Listen now again". The bank, the government says, we believe poetry matters, and one can be cynical about that, absolutely, and ask well why is it not being spread around elsewhere?"

From RTÉ Radio One's Arena, Dr Philip Coleman discusses the power of poetry when addressing issues like the financial collapse and banking crash