Untapped: Wentworth to discuss power of poetry with Brown Bag



For Marjory Wentworth, poetry is an unused resource.

“There’s so much there, and it’s so available,” Wentworth said. “And yet people are afraid of it, or they don’t even think to look there for something.”

Wentworth is the poet-in-residence for Week Four at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. With her Brown Bag lecture, “The Power of Poetry,” she’ll explore poetry’s knack for capturing the ephemeral. Wentworth’s presentation will be at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Wentworth is the poet laureate of South Carolina and has used poetry as a means of coping with the recent tragedy in Charleston, where nine black churchgoers were murdered. Wentworth said people generally don’t pay much attention to poetry, but it’s often the art form called upon in times of great joy or sadness.

“When there’s an occasion, like a wedding or a funeral, we want a poem,” Wentworth said. “And then when there’s a crisis — like after 9/11 or after what I’ve been living through in my hometown, in Charleston — we’ve had poems on the front page of the newspaper. So I decided to talk about the power of poetry to articulate the incomprehensible, both in the public and the personal sphere.”

Wentworth wrote a poem, titled “Holy City,” after the shooting in Charleston. A video of Wentworth reciting the poem can be viewed on the BBC’s website.

“I’ve been living it out,” Wentworth said. “It’s been an extraordinary time to be a poet in a place with a tragedy like we’ve had. So it’s very top of mind.”

Wentworth said the way people are taught to approach poetry — to analyze it and deconstruct it — is perhaps not the best way to think about the form. That, for Wentworth, leads to the idea that poetry is “inaccessible, difficult and confusing.”

“There’s lots and lots of poetry being written now and in the past that’s not complicated, that’s not convoluted, that’s not self-referential — there’s plenty of that if you want it,” Wentworth said.

Wentworth said when she works with children, they seem to grasp poetry for what it truly is. This is something Wentworth hopes she can pass on to her audience at Chautauqua.

“They don’t have any of these strange barriers that we put up when it comes to poetry,” Wentworth said. “It’s like handing out candy. They love it. Whenever there’s an opportunity to demystify and share what I love, I try to take it. It shouldn’t be scary.”

Wentworth said poetry’s power lies in the way that it can make the unclear both profound and beautiful.

“That’s the territory of poetry: the emotional life and the incomprehensible, things you just can’t make sense of,” Wentworth said. “Things can make sense in a poem in a way that they don’t make sense outside of the poem, and I think that’s enormously satisfying for a reader.”