Poetry is Not a Luxury

Picture of Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, the late 20th Century poet and writer states, “Poetry is a revelation of experience, not the sterile word-play that, too often, we are told the word poetry means.”

The Idea of poetry as necessary– and as not merely a luxury, or a waste of time, was beautifully expressed by the poet and writer Audre Lorde.

For Audre Lorde, poetry was defined as an efficient art form.  The power of poetry is found in the versatility of the art form; poems can be as short as a few words, or as long as one page.  Poetry can be composed while waiting for the bus, on break while at work, can be co-created with someone else and shared.

The ability to efficiently share ideas and emotions via poetry distinguishes the art form from other forms of writing; novels, essays, blogs– projects that take longer, take space, and require greater resources.  For Audre Lorde the immediacy of poetry lends itself to individuals who have very little time, but have great imaginations.

Lorde’s insisted that poetry was not a luxury was born out of her resistance to the criticism by some that there were more “important things to do” and as such poetry was “wasting her time”.  She responded that writing and sharing poetry was needed in order to dream about life; that to consider poetry a luxury is to give up on the future of our world, become unable to dream big and be reduced to mere parts within a machine unable to fully experience what it means to be alive.

The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives…

For Lorde, poetry expands the quality of the light by which we understand our lives as individuals, and engage within our environment.  The quality of that light enhances human societies, and has a direct bearing upon the changes we hope to bring about in the world.

Lorde, as a poet, lived fully the idea that through poetry we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem is written, left nameless and formless; not yet birthed, but already felt.


Thinking deeply…

Lorde wrote that the distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought, the way that a dream births a concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births understanding.

Sharing creative expressions such as poetry is important for Lorde because, as we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny, and to flourish within it–as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us.


Lorde often wrote that for each of us there is a place where our true selves are hidden and growing, “beautiful and tough against our nightmare of weakness”.

These places of possibility within ourselves Lorde said holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power. And, she believed that we come closest to this place of possibility via poetry.

Lorde stated that for many poetry is a vital necessity, a light with which to access our hopes and dreams for survival and change. These hopes and dreams are first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.

And, because action in the now is always necessary, Lorde said that we need to allow ourselves to be creative all the while thinking about the very real physical needs we all have; the need for housing, food, clothing, the need for healthy environments and healthy communities.

For Lorde, the two are never separate, for her taking care of all of our “real” needs is the same as being able to dream, create art and poetry.

*Learn more about Audre Lorde: .


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

HUM2020 Environmental Humanities Copyright © by karinacespedes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book