We live in an age of unprecedented innovation. In the past eight years alone, we’ve witnessed the emergence of technological breakthroughs such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, the iPhone and the iPad. Clean and alternative energy are becoming more prominent due to fiscal and environmental concerns about our dependence on oil, coal and natural gas. Innovation is everywhere and it will continue to define our lives in the 21st century.
However, most of us aren’t computer programmers or chemical engineers. So how can we contribute to a vibrant atmosphere of innovation without expertise in a certain field? The answer: we can all write poems.
Innovation is all about seeing the world through unique perspectives and creating something new according to them. Similarly, poetry is all about creating one new image, phrase or shade of emotion that only one person can imagine and bring into reality. Innovation is driven by imagination and a sense of endless possibility. With poetry, the sky’s the limit.
One driving force behind the success of late innovation giant and Apple CEO Steve Jobs was his artistic sensibility. In his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Jobs described his enrollment in a calligraphy class after he had dropped out of college, despite his knowledge that the class did not have “even a hope of any practical application” in his life at that time. However, Jobs said, “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” If we train ourselves to view the world from an artistic perspective, the potential for innovation is endless.
All other forms of art can facilitate innovation, but poetry is the most manageable art form for us to explore within the constraints of our daily routines and responsibilities. By the time we’ve finished learning a melodic line on our musical instrument, considering the next event in a short story’s plotline or drawing a picture that isn’t terribly deformed, we could have written several thoughtful lines of poetry. We can all write poetry because we can all write in the English language — that’s all we need to write a poem that’s meaningful to us.
There are absolutely no rules governing poetry. Someone can write three words and call it poetry. A poem can be simple or even silly. People need to realize that a poem doesn’t need to have groundbreaking insight or be written in any particular way to be considered “poetry.” Writing poetry simply trains us to view ourselves and our surroundings from a unique or unconventional perspective. Innovation is all about thinking “outside the box” and poetry is highly conducive to that type of thought process.
Writing poetry also leads to self-fulfillment. When we create something, it feels good. The goal of writing poetry isn’t publication, fame or approval from our peers. Instead, it’s about viewing the world in a new way – your own way – without any criticism or cynicism. It’s an exciting feeling to be completely free of any logical or imaginative constraints. This is the type of mindset that we need to develop if we’re going to innovate in the 21st century.
An artistic mindset is critical for modern innovation, yet politics sometimes threatens to restrict our ability to explore our artistic potential. Last January, House Republicans proposed to cut $7.8 billion over 10 years from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, even though these cuts represented only 0.3 percent of the proposed cuts. In November, the Los Angeles Times reported that the NEA and NEH each received only $155 million per year in federal funding and were “among the smallest agency appropriations in the federal budget.” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also has proposed to cut federal funding for several agencies including the NEA, NEH and CPB by half.
While funding for the arts has faded from the national conversation in recent months, we must not forget their importance in the context of national and global innovation. Luckily, a pen, paper and an idea do not cost much money, so we can still create a large amount of poetry in the meantime. However, other art forms require more expensive supplies and funding for programs that teach skills to create those types of art. The proposed cuts to the arts reflect a lack of understanding about their enormous contribution to innovation, which is deeply troubling in a country that prides itself on progress.
We can be the world’s next great innovators if we view the world from an artistic perspective. Writing poetry is a valuable first step towards achieving that goal.
Michael Spaeth is an LSA freshman.