Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poetry and Uselessness

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I had the great pleasure of reading at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo yesterday as part of their “can lit kicks ass” reading series. It was my first chance to read from The Polymers with the book in my hand (the box arrived just a day earlier). My hosts were generous and the audience was attentive, posing some thoughtful questions about poetry and science following my reading. I’ve since been thinking about some of those questions and also about the subsequent discussion I had with students from Claire Tacon’s creative writing class. There has been, in my experience, a persistent anxiety about poetry’s so-called marginalized cultural position. While some chalk this up to a failure of poetic innovation and a resultant stagnation perpetuated by tired verse forms, others bemoan aspects of innovation itself and suggest that poets are writing for smaller and ever more specialized audiences. I think in some ways the anxiety about poetry’s marginalization is misplaced. I think we should celebrate the freedom that a lack of moneyed attention provides. “Uselessness” is a deceptively powerful position. From the margins poets can steal, repurpose, offend, and otherwise be provocative in ways that are impossible in other art forms beholden to more substantial economic interests. It’s not like poetry can ever “die.” It’s like saying a language or a culture could cease to have rough, indecipherable, and difficult edges. These are precisely the places where poetry lives. Here’s to purposeless, useless play that messes with the edges of things.


Thanks Susan! Too often we are asked to see the value of things in terms of their capacity to generate money. We also see this increasingly with discussions about what constitutes a "useful" education. Poetry teaches us to look in unexpected, overlooked places for possible answers (and for alternative ways of posing the very questions we are trying to answer). It is counterproductive in all sorts of ways to discourage this kind of curiosity.

Bravo, Adam. Equating "monied" with "useful" is tempting but there are so many examples of the inverse. I'm a writer, so I know!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Adam Dickinson

Adam Dickinson’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada and internationally. His first book of poetry, Cartography and Walking (Brick Books), was shortlisted for an Alberta Book Award. His second collection, Kingdom, Phylum (Brick Books), was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. His third collection of poetry, The Polymers is published by House of Anansi Press.

Go to Adam Dickinson’s Author Page