I have always been in love with the written word, especially, prose. Always delectable. I admire writers and I am forever fascinated by their ability to create a world and transport others along into that word with them. For their ability to tell stories that can make one laugh or cry; to invoke feelings that can be so diverse and extreme all at once. I am addicted to words woven in esoteric language, that invoke feelings ethereal.
I love poetry too. Especially for its ability to compress, to make long short without losing the essence. For its ability to invoke imagery that tells the story without necessarily saying it in plain language. I love poetry for its ability to paint and draw pictures with words.
Take this stanza from Okot p Bitek’ Cattle Egret for example;
“The testicle of the bell
Knocks hard against
His round thighs
And he screams in sharp pain”
Just like prose, I love poetry unquestionably. While prose has been kind and gentle, poetry has not been reciprocal in loving me back. Poetry sometimes, if not most times confound and distress me.
My love for poetry dates back to my secondary school days. I savoured the poetry of writers like, Okot P Bitek, Gabriel Okara, JP Clark, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Wole Soyinka amongst others. It was also during this period that I discovered that poetry was not entirely kind to me. While I could read some and savour the imagery without stress, extra efforts were required to understand others
My inability to understand two poems of the same title “Abiku” one by Wole Soyinka and the other by JP Clark with similar ease, was clear early warning sign that poetry was not interested in reciprocating my love for it.
While I struggled to understand Wole Soyinka’s Abiku as exemplified by the following stanza –
“The ripes fruit was saddest; Where I crept, the warmth was cloying. In the silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping Mounds from the yolk.” –
I found no difficulty whatsoever digesting and savouring JP Clark’s version as shown in the stanza below
“Then step in, step in and stay For her body is tired, Tired, her milk going sour Where many more mouths gladden the heart.”
Granted that both poets approached the subject of Abiku from two different perspectives – one defiant and imperious, the other supplicant and pleading, the language and imagery in one was decidedly obtuse and abstract as if intended to confound, while the other was deep yet alluring.
Love poetry as I do, there are poems that I cannot read beyond the first two verses. There is actually no point struggling to read what you cannot understand.
Poetry is visual arts in words. Like visual art, it can be abstract and may need to be explained. Only the select can access its esoteric depth without stress. This is however not to diss poetry or those with the ability to confound. I will love to write some “satanic verses” of my own. So take this as expression of envy, because I secretly covet the ability to wickedly confound others with verses too.