Young Star

Death of poetry? Death of the soul

IN A NUTSHELL - Samantha King -

Those hip, trend-loving kids of today? They’ll be ones to tell you to burn all that nonsense. Poetry, I mean. Just like what Nero did in ye olden days of Rome.

But this isn’t Ancient Rome; and by virtue of that, this definitely isn’t ye olden days either. How many times must one repeat the general anthem of today’s generation? FastpacedglobalizediPodInternettechnologyuploaddownload — I could go on, but I’d only embarrass myself. After all, this is the air we humans now breathe. And that’s assuming we even have time for that simple biological function. Indeed, if the signs of the times are anything to go by, then we’ve been holding our breath for a looong while now; too busy keeping up with ever-expanding fads and manufactured needs to just slow down.

Thus, in a world run on efficiency and the dictates of the free market, small wonder that poetry has been left to gather dust in a corner. Prose takes precedence because it’s pragmatic, straight to the point, and usually digestible in just one sitting. Poetry, however, with its roundabout ways of describing a single subject entails hours of consultation with a dictionary, much head-banging and frustration before finally achieving enlightenment.

Not exactly the most alluring of topics, to be sure. No one has the time or inclination to sit down and traverse the great landscape of metaphor that is poetry, simply because it waxes too eloquent to be taken seriously anymore. In this day and age, poetry is redundant — viewed less as a source of moral and philosophic power than an unprofitable, largely head-in-the-clouds endeavor that only the pretentious elite would engage in. Except the wealthy wouldn’t actually buy it… and there’s the rub. If it can’t appeal to the common masses either, then what good is it then?

Most of us have idealized poetry, which is just another way of saying that we’ve relegated it to the realm of self-help books and aromatherapy baths. And while this is totally fine in the sense that readers at least get something out of poetry, I think deep down we all know that the art form serves a higher purpose than just massaging our bruised egos. People like to quote Neruda on his magnificent poems about love and longing — “Tonight I can write the saddest lines…” — but that’s where it ends. Poof. 

Perceptive poetry: Even today poetry breathes life into our perceptions of the world.

I’m no poet, but I am a big fan. I can’t write a scrap of poetry to save my life, but I’ve always wished that I could. Even attending a free poetry workshop did nothing to redeem me; except to emphasize my utter inability to compose verse. Hey, my facilitator would say, everyone can write poetry. To which I reply, sure. Unless they can’t.

Because poetry is more than just jotting down emotions “recollected in tranquility” or making sure that everything rhymes. It’s more than flexing your ability to bombard a reader with metaphors that in the end don’t make any sense, and it’s more than an aesthetic that’s supposedly detached from the harsh, material conditions of the world. It can be as personal as you want it to be, but also as political. In fact, for the great Romantic poet Percy Shelley, there was no difference between poetry, rebellion against oppression, and political philosophy.

In not so many words, then, the power of the poetic form lies in its ability to present a new way of looking at things; the everyday and the mundane. No matter the kind of poetry; be it the simple compositions of China’s Book of Songs, the elaborate imagery of T.S. Eliot, or the creations of our own local poets from Gemino Abad to Lorena Barros, the fundamental purpose of poetry remains the same — to defamiliarize, reinvent, and help its readers rediscover. 

It’s no mean feat; to push the barriers of sound and image, grammar and syntax in such a way that we become most moved by things which were once regarded as ordinary; those largely unacknowledged in the hubbub of our everyday lives. Poetry breathes life into our perceptions of the world — how we hear the conversation of a next-door neighbor or the patter of rain on the rooftop, how we view the sun setting in the sky or street kids begging for alms, how we feel as women or homosexuals, as lovers and friends, how we come to terms with the banalities of existence or the refusal to look death in the eye.

 All these and more, poetry has taken into its breast and given a sense of freedom. Freedom from preconceived notions, and the constraints of stereotype and convention. With regards to every fleeting thing you’ve ever felt in life, there’s sure to be a poet that has already written about it. Truly, it can be said that far from poets being removed from the realities of the world, they are, in fact, the ones most in touch with it.

My tips for easing yourself into the liberating world of poetry? Breathe. Make the supreme effort to wean yourself away from social networking, video games, online conferences and everything in between for just a moment; and curl up by yourself, piece in hand. Forget about the author when you digest a poem, since intent and outcome so rarely coincide anyway. Forget about the allusiveness and doubletalk, and allow the language to slowly wash over you. Most of all, forget that you’re alone as you read the poem, because what it all boils down to is that you aren’t, really.

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