I do think that poetry has the ability to instigate change in the world in a small way. Most poems don't but some do. Poetry is not a good way to transmit facts to people, for instance, but it is better-suited than most other media to transmit empathy. I really do think this. Really good poetry has helped me understand the lives and situations of other people -- refugees, old ladies, WWI soldiers, Mesopotamians -- in some sub-logical way I'd be hard-pressed to explain outside of the medium. Because they were never explained to me, these sensitivities, these things! They were sent in poems.
I don't think that it's always the intention of the poet to help people understand something. The poet just writes with whatever intention -- working out emotions, having fun with words, being heard, being found impressive. But if the poem is really good, there is a chance that it will change, if not the minds of its readers, then I don't know, their neural connections, their inner djinns, their bodily humors. There is a change, and it is for the better. Again, the poem has to be good.
- Ben Ladouceur, in interview with rob mclennan over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here.
p.s. I'm reading with Ben, the current Al Purdy A-frame writer-in-residence, in Picton, Ontario on October 30th. You can learn more about that reading here.