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Poetry: Who Needs It?
Copyright©2009 by Marianne Jones

Not too many years ago I attended a Christian writers conference in Guelph where delegates were invited to book a short appointment with a guest publisher to pitch our book ideas. He was a warm, gracious man who held up his hand to stop me as soon as he heard the word “poetry.” With utmost kindness and tact he explained that there was no market for books of Christian poetry. None.

I was more than disappointed. I was saddened. The general poetry market in Canada is anorexic, so it is not surprising that the Christian market is nonexistent. Still, the only conclusion I could draw from that conversation was that Christians don’t read poetry.

Christians do a lot of other important stuff, mind you. They teach Sunday School, volunteer in food banks, work at day jobs, raise kids, look after ageing parents. Does it matter that they have little interest in poetry or in the arts in general?

Perhaps on one level it matters no more than the fact that I have no interest in sports. It’s easier, I suppose, to make a case for the value of sports than for the solitary, introspective work of literature. Still, I’m tempted to think that part of the divide is the dichotomy between the world of immediate rewards and the longer-term (dare I say deeper?) perspective of the thinker and feeler.

Despite the fact that in the Mary and Martha story Jesus clearly sided with Mary, our world, including our church culture, sits firmly in Martha’s camp. We admire doers, we value busyness and “productivity.” We have little patience with the contemplative Mary’s the artists who have the annoying habit of always seeming to listen to a voice that is just out of hearing to everyone else. When will they get with the program and realize who pays the bills, keeps the programs running and generally makes things happen?

So why did Jesus say Mary had chosen the better part?

It’s not an easy question to answer. There are many times that I wish God had chosen to endow me with more practical gifts with which to bless the world, rather than merely an ability to link words together in an attempt to sing about the human condition. But then I am reminded that the psalmist was a poet. The prophets were poets. The apostle John was a poet. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they expressed the full range of human experiences in words that revealed God’s heart and encouraged people for thousands of years.

We don’t know whether the prophets had a lot of practical gifts. We don’t know if they were good at making money (although it seems unlikely.) But we do know that as their words have been read and sung and spoken and preached, countless people have had their hearts touched, changed, comforted and set on fire with an unquenchable flame.

Now that’s a legacy worth pursuing.

Marianne's poetry has appeared in numerous denominational and literary publications, and has won several awards. Her chapbook, Highway 17, was included in the creative writing curriculum at Confederation College in Thunder Bay. She is currently working on a collection of poetry with the help of the Ontario Arts Council.