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Whether it is "Redefining literary techniques and devices", "Justifying Papua New Guinea Literature", or "Translating the Bible into Anuki", these offer valuable reading for the paperless student of literature, and indeed the best sort of literary entertainment you can get out of Papua New Guinea. Check them out either on Soaba's Storyboard or The Anuki Country Press.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Redeeming poetry

One of the valuable aspects of poetry is its ability to redeem. Then there are other qualities to it as well; such as its ability to uncover truth in as gentle a manner as possible so that the end result of it all comes to the human senses when it serves its ultimate purpose of healing a society. Poetry is meant to unravel, to redeem and to heal – not the other way around.

But there is something else about poetry that makes it appear so dangerously simple looking – indeed so simple looking that we feel we can easily explain it. We use the adverb “dangerously” here because the moment we explain poetry, the moment we feel we have understood that poetry, we have unknowingly committed ourselves to an error in judgement. Our version of a poem might not mean the intended message of its author.

Poetry is neither didactic nor explanatory. It remains as it is. And it is meant to be overly complex and mysterious. Only the eye of the beholder knows it essence as beauty, as truth. Poetry is, therefore, felt and known – not explained or taught.

The art of feeling and knowing poetry can best be likened to attending a ceremony when young people are in the process of being graduated at their respective schools. In some foreign schools, for example, such ceremonies are read out in Latin. Of course no one knows what is being read then, but the most important thing is going through such a ceremony with a feeling of trepidation. So much anxiety is involved here; but again so much anticipation.

Then, of course, the hour of feeling and knowing arrives.  
President Ruth Simmons. Her popularity reached far beyond the shores of New England and extended as far as Papua New Guinea, especially in the world of academia.
Ruth Simmons, first African-American President of an Ivy League school (Brown University, Rhode Island, USA) does that very well comes commencement (or graduation) around June of each year at that school. After having read parts of the ceremony in Latin she leans over at her graduating youngsters and beams: “In case you are curious about what just happened, I’ve awarded you your degree.” And so the hats and hoods fly, the cloaks flutter, hugs abound, much rolling over and over and drumming and dancing upon the college green. They know what it was they were working so hard for the previous four years and they can feel it. Thus, the sacred essence of feeling and knowing poetry.

It is true poetry deals exclusively with human emotions. “Poetry is a spontaneous flow of powerful feeling,” declares one master of poetry. “Poetry is a science of words,” says another. And again, another, “Poetry is an imitation of reality.” But whatever it does, finally, declares quite another, there must be a certain “objective correlative” about it. So in essence there is always a reason that enables a person to write poetry.

The above are the basics of what are considered good poetry. Then there are the instances of bad writing such as when good poetry itself begins taking another direction. Such poetries fall under so many categories, but we can limit them here to protest, satire, caricatures and lampoons.

All these still constitute poetry but the sad aspect of them is that they last only in so far as the successive generations remember them. For example, the eternal poetic utterance: “Death, where is thy sting.” While many of us would associate that with Shakespeare the phrase actually comes from the Bible. Or, to look at another example, “to be or not to be, that is the question.” That poetic utterance, though first spoken some 700 hundred years ago, is still being used today. Question: Do we know what it means? Answer: We don’t have to. And that is what poetry really is, or ought to be.

But the poetry that seeks to teach, to explain, to reprimand, to rebuke or to even express a disappointment is hardly remembered by successive generations. That type of poetry is likely to suffer the severe scrutiny of an attentive literary critic. This is the guy who finally tells us if our writing is good or bad. And if we are wise we must believe him.

Now there have been so many poems appearing in the writers’ forum, but it is not storyboard’s business to accredit and assess them as poetry – as such observations usually come by upon invitation of each of the contributors to the forum. But there is one poem we would like to critique here, for just the reason of its pretentious stance of looking great. That poem is View of the Day by Deborah Kayuwa, represented as follows:

She came down to the beach
When they told her
And saw the familiar figure
Sitting still, looking out
To sea and the distant horizon

A moment of hesitation
Then the sure-footed steps towards
The figure; she sat down beside him
And took the half-smoked cigarette
From his fingers and smoked with him
The effect of nicotine helping a little

Her sisters came and placed thumbs
Over his eyes to shut them
For this had been the man who kept her
Vigilant 24 hours a day to answer
All her children’s needs, yet she
Could not take him into her family

She replaced the cigarette in his fingers
Fumes rising and sailing by
As they led her away, from the ocean
 And the motionless figure

For a moment she thought
She would pause, look back
But walked on

Although the poem may look classical it lacks depth in the sense that both poet and persona do not correspond perfectly as truthful sounding entities. On the part of the poet one suspects a member of a certain class in society not happy with his/her upbringing, suddenly caught up in some personal liaison he/she cannot get out of easily and that the only moment of liberation foreseen is re-assimilation. On the part of the persona, well, well, could it be possible that one might be in love with something that is dead? How can a dead man smoke and watch the long expanse of sea before him for a long time. But we can only admire the persona’s decision to walk away from the beach scene. Final evaluation? According to storyboard this is not at all a good poem. The author needs to enrol in more of Soaba’s literature classes.