Poetry is often a reflection of a persons innermost thoughts, feelings and desires. This can be personal to each individual. But most importantly it can be interpreted in various ways by society and can have many different reactions. Most poetry is created to evoke a response or a feeling within someone, but not everyone will always agree on your analysis of certain subjects. It’s a useful tool in influencing people because of its emotive and linguistic capture upon its audience. If you can intrigue a person and appeal to them you have a chance of persuading them to your way of thinking or swaying them into your ideas. This can be a most effective writing skill, to touch and to compel a person with mere words is a powerful instrument. Influencing a whole society would be enacting such abilities on a large scale. Would I say that poetry has the means to influence a society? I would be more inclined to say in can persuade, suggest and create discussion. It is believing that a person is not merely a sheep but also has the revenants to form an individual perception.
In American society, I believe that poetry has little influence beyond the people who write and read it. I am not sure about present day Russia but poets have been treated as stars there in the past. Huge crowds would turn out to hear prominent poets there. In some Latin countries poets still are revered by large portions of the population.
I attended a reading here in Eugene,Oregon last year and there were more than 300 people to hear W. S. Merwin, and there are other poets like Billy Collins that draw a lot of people, but poetry just does not influence this society that much.
I dare say that it would be even more interesting to turn that question around: how does society influence poetry? ;-)
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