The extra things

‘We are also beings who take in more than we can easily process from the world around us; we know more than we realise, and that helps us to become self-questioning persons who are always aware things could be different.
We learn this as children through fantasy and play, we keep it alive as adults through all sorts of “unproductive” activity, from sport to poetry.
It is the extra things that make us human.’

Rowan Williams

In a big city like London, it is always possible to be pleasantly surprised by undiscovered delights. Who would have guessed, for example, that in the Royal Festival Hall, on the fifth floor, is a library entirely dedicated to poetry? Not me. But that was where I took myself on Monday night, for an evening hosted by For Books’ Sake about women’s poetry.

What would life be like if there were no poetry? No music to sing? Nothing beautiful to stop and stare at? What if the sum of life was just the business of survival or the acquisition of wealth? Would it actually be worth having?

I’ve always felt an element of awe around poetry. Although often made of very few words, you have to linger over poems in a way that I tend not to with prose. There’s something about the way a combination of words, that in and of itself don’t always make full sense, somehow conveys a feeling or an idea in a way that makes you understand it in your gut, and in a way that prose really can’t.

What I like about poetry the most, though, is that it is not at all utilitarian. It serves no greater economic purpose. It exists, like all the arts, I suppose, to be gratuitously useless, a pure outlet for describing human experience; to inspire readers with a sense that our condition is shared by all humanity, down through time, to allow us to wonder at the beauty and pain and sweetness of our lives, and to understand that we are not alone.

In a time of economic austerity and high unemployment, it’s understandable that the less obviously necessary things should suffer cuts. Still, the idealist in me asks the question ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?’ Like our dear old Archbish said nearly a year ago, it is the extra things that make us human.


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