read the article about poetry’s social function, and compose a one-page focused writing in which you:
answer the question (Does Poetry Have a Social Function? – and what is it?)
reference one of the “authorities” / poets from the article and explain the relationship between your viewpoints
and defend your perspective using the poem Home Burial by Robert Frost
Does Poetry Have a Social Function?
BY STEPHEN BURT AND DAISY FRIED AND MAJOR JACKSON AND EMILY WARN
What is the social function of poetry? Well, what is the social function of ER nursing? Of plumbing and carpentry? Whatever you think of the folks who fix your pipes, you know roughly what they get paid to do, and why the people who pay them value their services. An individual poet may think she knows such things about poetry, but put two or more poets (let alone critics) in a room, and their so-called knowledge may reveal itself as clashing opinions or axioms—even though “social,” as the antithesis of “individual,” implies some ground of agreement, something shared. (One reason we keep seeking a “social function” despite this lack of agreement: those of us who make a living through poetry—by teaching other people how to write more of it, or by writing about it—often feel a bit guilty for getting paid.)
Compared to the writing of poetry, few other human activities take place so widely, at least in America, absent even a tacit consensus as to why we do them, what good they do, what function they serve. When you read a lot of contemporary poetry, you discover that the presumed or stated, implicit or explicit, social function of poetry (if any) varies wildly with the poet. Rae Armantrout’s poetry, for example, seeks—at times, it seems to despair of finding—a social function we might identify as the inculcation of skeptical thinking. That’s a social function in the sense of “social good,” even of “social policy.” James Merrill’s poetry has a social function in the sense of “social event”: it tries to produce—often, in the face of mortality, or dejection, or bodily ills—a sense that the poet has friends who get his jokes, who share his sense of things, who respond in kind. Late Merrill—the Merrill of “Self-Portrait in Tyvek Windbreaker”—wonders whether his poetry might resound beyond that social group. Both poets want to say something about a society, and both poets want to do something we might call “social”—to imagine, and to cause, some sense of relations that extend beyond one-on-one intimacy—but they differ in what they want to do, and in why. To speak usefully about the social function of poetry, we need to decide what—or whose—poetry we intend.