Poetry readings are in vogue, especially among young people. In their extreme form, they are actual competitions, "poetry slams" with prizes for the poet who wins the most applause. "At the beginning of the twenty-first century," concludes Dana Gioia, poet and former General Foods executive recently nominated by President Bush to serve as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts,
a broad and diverse coalition of Americans has created a public space for poetry. This huge populist revival happened almost entirely outside the university. For the first time in half a century the academic poetry world is balanced by an equally large amount of activity in the general culture.
In his 1991 essay "Can Poetry Matter?" in The Atlantic Monthly, Gioia noted that for the most part poetry has become decidedly a minority taste, like atonal music, "the specialized occupation of a relatively small and isolated group." Gioia also argued that this need not be so, if only poets were willing "to leave the well-ordered but stuffy classroom. … to restore a vulgar vitality to poetry."
Gioia now sees evidence of change, not least in the popularity of poetry as a performing art. But what of the evangelical world? Has the revival Gioia sees in the general culture penetrated there as well? Should we care? For that matter, why should Christians—busy Christians, Christians loyal to the priorities of the kingdom of God, Christians redeeming the time—read poetry in the first place?
One place to turn for an answer is The Green Earth: Poems of Creation (Eerdmans), the latest collection by evangelical poet and author Luci Shaw. In her brief introduction, Shaw focuses our attention, as a good poet does, precisely upon the very act of focusing attention: