Sunday, January 06, 2013

Thomas Quinlan on poetry

There was a remarkable column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer about a man named Thomas Quinlan, who has spent most of his 87 years in love with poetry. Not a poet himself, he nevertheless adores the work of poets. Said his son, Joe, "His big thing is to read a poem and think about it a little bit, then think about it a little bit more. He's been this way throughout his life."

In the article, which is not only a profile of Mr. Quinlan but also mentions that an endowed lecture at New York University is now named for him, Mr. Quinlan says some really great things about poetry. About the kids he taught after he got his degree in English on the GI Bill after World War II, he said this:

"The kids I taught probably had more poetry than they should have. Because poetry doesn't come easily, you have to develop a taste for it. Poetry takes a little bit of energy and time." (Emphasis added.)
Quinlan later says:

There's something way down deep in human beings, something intrinsic inside us, that needs these stories. We read poetry or any kind of great literature, or listen to great music, because it's the nature of human beings to hunger for this kind of spiritual satisfaction.

You can live a long, happy life without reading a poem or listening to Beethoven, but your life is diminished. Such works are a door to a higher level of response to the world."
The article closes with Mr. Quinlan's observation on why there are so many great Irish poets:

"The Irish have traditionally had a hard life. They didn't have any money, so they had to come up with something that doesn't cost anything. To write a poem, all you need is a pencil and a piece of paper."
Seriously, how great is that?

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