1980, Austin, TX. I took it in very poor light...

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The phrase, “Poetry is not a luxury,” was made famous by Audre Lorde’s 1977 essay by the same name. As a teacher who makes a career of bringing poetry into nontraditional settings, including an inspirational GED program for teen mothers, I quote Lorde often. When I apply for grants, proposals, and press releases, I argue that rather than being a luxury, poetry is a vital part of education—and not just for students in elite schools, but for everyone, including teen mothers, new immigrants who are learning English, and adults in literacy programs.

Lorde says it best in her essay, which I’ve re-read many times (thanks to the fact that I teach it to my community college English classes and I quote it in my workshops and classes about poetry for teachers).

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action,” Lorde writes.

What I often forget when I think about this essay, is what a strong role dreams play in her argument as well.

Lorde argues that the dominant culture (white, European, male) values logic and rationality at the expense of feelings, intuition, and the deep mystical callings of our souls. What is lost is a vital bridge – a connecting link – that moves us from the vast realms outside of our conscious, everyday awareness. That broken link separates us from our feminine power, Lorde writes. She cautions: “… we have given up the future of our worlds.”

I have long sensed that what moves us through our days is not our conscious will. Our executive function, though much lauded, is in fact weak compared with our sub-conscious tugs and currents. I’m not just talking about the Freudian id, here, but of our nighttime dreams and the deep wells of emotion.

What we dream at night might well color our actions during the day, as much as– perhaps more than–the conscious decisions we come to after making lists of pros and cons and getting the advice of trusted friends or paid advisors.

I find myself constantly having to justify my position that we must become literate in the symbolic language of dreams if we wish to achieve our full powers; our full humanity. We are better human beings when we shed our phobia of poetry, clear our minds, and let the cadence of verse wash through our beings.

Being free to write out the poetry of our inner voices, being free to hear the dream cadences of our lives, to tune into our nighttime dreams and our waking feelings, is necessary to being fully human and fully alive.

So I say it again, and with increased passion and renewed urgency: Poetry is not a luxury. And now let’s add to that: Dreams, too, are essential, vital, and central to who we are – and who we are capable of becoming.

© 2012 Tzivia Gover

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To learn about my book about teaching poetry to teen mothers click here.

April is National Poetry Month! Celebrate by bringing Dreams & Poetry into your life!