Poetry Makes Us Human

Thoughts on Conviction 6:
"The Poetic Power of the Imagination calls Forth Our Highest Potential"

By Mary Lee Morrison

Poetry makes us human. Without poetry and other art forms, the survival of global, planetary consciousness and, indeed, our very existence as a species is called into question. Poetry, through words, reduces our experiences to their essence and, at the same time, uplifts our souls to their highest. The poet and peace activist Denise Levertov (1923-1997) wrote that poets, more than any others, “recognize language as a form of life and a common resource to be cherished and served as we should serve and cherish earth and its waters, animal and vegetable life, and each other.” Levertov believed that the poet’s task is to hold in trust that knowledge that language is considered power (my italics). Quoting Ibsen, Levertov noted that the task of the poet is to “make clear to himself [sic], and thereby to others, the temporal and eternal questions which are astir in the age and community to which he belongs.” 

Poets must give us their (and ours to claim) imagination, the images of peace, to replace those of disaster and war, in order to foster hope for a better world. Daisaku Ikeda writes that the poet creates “portals of hope and entranceways for exchange in the massive walls that divide us.” Good peace pedagogy must do the same, with the power to evoke our imagination toward the deepest possibilities for human existence. All too often we can despair at the hope for change if we see only our present world and the structural violence in which we are embedded.

Elise Boulding began in the 1980s, with Warren Ziegler, to create imaging workshops in which participants, through a series of imaginary steps both backwards and forwards in their own personal sense of time, communally designed the world they wished to see and, at the end of the workshop each participant created action steps to move into the world he/she wished to see. Boulding’s ideas were based, in part, on the work of the Dutch futurist, Fred Polak, who believed that educators and activists cannot work for a world they cannot imagine. So it is with the artists, who, by their trade, are closer than many of us to the imaginings of both inner truths and outer good. It is important to give credence to where we have been as much as where we hope to go. Good poetry captures the essence of this hope and, in Ikeda’s words, creates a sense of “spiritual openness” to new possibilities. Thus we can see that both poets and peace educators can contribute to the deepening of this spiritual essence within each of us so that we can create possibilities for new ways of thinking and acting.

Excerpted from Poetry and Peace: Explorations of Language and "Unlanguage" as Transformative Pedagogy


Mary Lee Morrison is President Emeritus of Pax Educare, Inc., the Connecticut Center for Peace Education  She has authored, with Ian Harris, Peace Education and Elise Boulding: A Life in the Cause of Peace (both by McFarland and Co. Inc.) She spoke at our 2010 book event celebrating Elise Boulding and the book Into Full Flower. That same year she sat down with us for an interview called The Beauty and Strength of Peace Building.

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