WHY NOT EVERYONE THINKS EVERYONE IS A POET by Adetutu, Olusola Joseph
Basically everyone has something to express: an idea, a thought, or an observation. We find that these things can be expressed in a couple of ways: pictures, music, prose, drama, dance, typical poetry, to mention a few. A recent trend has been that many people choose to express themselves in poetry. Pictures made the headlines at a time, but it is undeniable that poetry is a good match.
Poetry has its advantages. Writing poetry, like taking a picture, does not demand much from you. It does not need the stages, the producers, the directors, or the frustrating phone calls of an insatiable editor. Even better than pictures, poetry does not need a camera, a brush or a software to highlight its contours. And to beat them all, it does not need a pen. Poetry, as composed in the mind, might as well be recited aloud. This is the beauty of poetry. But is it lazy indulgence?
What we see most times is not poetry. What we see is prose written in broken lines. Poetry, if it is to be called poetry, has to conform to certain norms. Norms are patterns, not consciously constructed, but subconsciously formed from common, observable features. If this is the case, whatever is to be classified as A must conform to the norms of A. In any other case, it is B. But is everyone aware of these norms? And in what way exactly did what features come to be what norms?
Poetry, I have also learnt, is like the Marxist bourgeoisie. A set of people somewhere in the world are poets; everyone else is a wannabe. There is a sort of rank, a hierarchy. You cannot be there, except you are there. The poets are the Shakespeares, the Soyinkas, the Miltons, the Cummings, the Aiyejinas, the Clarks, the Wordsworths. Poetry is like an elitist club that will have no regard, however little, for the “common man”. And nothing but sitting with the elites makes you elite; that is, a poet. But how did these “elites” come to be? Were they born as such? Is everyone else simply unfortunate?
Interestingly too, poetry cannot be lengthy. There is no such thing as epic poetry or narrative poetry, especially when un-metred. In your bid to appear “not lazy,” do not be talkative, or you stand the risk of being officious. Let a play be a play; a novel a novel; and a poem what it is. You cannot tie down your readers who just want a scent of your figures. Poetry, like a tasteless but aromatic meal, remains desired only from a distance. The aroma of poetry is better than a meal of it. But is literature ever limiting?
Many people strongly hold these views that poetry is: (1) as a matter of importance, guided by strict rules; (2) some defined membership criterion; and (3) brief literature. Anything outside these specifications does not count as poetry but something else. But are they correct?
A minority of people are opposed to this extremism, so to speak. If poetry is literature, why then the scientific theories? they would ask. Would anything dissentient not count as literature? If so, would it be science? Afterall, poetry is meant to be spontaneous.
In his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth (1801) wrote: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” For the purpose of this piece, let me point out from Wordsworth’s words that poetry is defined by: (1) spontaneity; (2) an overflow; (3) powerful feelings; (4) emotion; and (5) tranquility.
Therefore, if poetry is spontaneous, how does one alter its form? If the form with which the original inspiration to write it came does not, strictly speaking, conform to the so-called norms, does one disrupt this spontaneity for the purpose of conformity?
Also, how does one reduce an overflow or stop “powerful feelings,” if they refuse to stop flowing, when the prescribed length is reached? Keep in mind too that no one can say exactly what this length is – thirty words or two pages?
Further, if poetry truly is a reflection of human emotion in its purest and ideal form, doesn’t alteration simply destroy the originality? This fact best explains why poetry cannot be twice the same. You never compose a line of poetry today the same way you did yesterday. You need a tranquil mind, the emotional content of which are excavated in originality.
If we are to believe that there is something like “poetry bourgeoisie” and that Wordsworth, in this sense, was bourgeois, we would agree that he remains an authority whose words need to be taken with all seriousness. But those people who do not think everyone is or can be a poet cannot be entirely wrong. So maybe, just maybe, not everyone is a poet. I would assume that on the basis of names and addresses, these folks are correct, in a sense: (1) that everyone can write poetry; but (2) not everyone is a poet; because (3) everyone has feelings and emotion; but (4) a line must be drawn – as it is for photographers, novelists, musicians, playwrights and all other artist(e)s, between a writer and a poet.
Written by Adetutu, Olusola Joseph Jr
Adetutu is a graduate student of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex, England.