What I Have to Say About Poetry

Poetry comes in many forms and through various mediums. However, for something so accessible, it seems like only a few of us give it the time of day.

Have you ever felt like a poem said something in a way that resonated with you so much you could have been the one who wrote it?

What about when a poem captured your feelings so well you could just share it with-and let it be your spokesperson to, somebodyy else?

I can’t talk about poetry without acknowledging that there are numerous cultures around the world and they each have their own kinds of poetry. One person can’t relate to every poem they come across, which is why I stand by the fact that personal taste matters.

When I was a kid, I knew poetry had a melody. Unfortunately, when I read some poems nowadays, they usually are devoid of that melody, or even a theme I can envision since everything is mashed up, and not-so-visually-appealing with all the unnecessary punctuation (especially those written in prose), and after reading the last word, I quickly forget what the poem was about. Sounds familiar?

In an article that brilliantly features the renowned Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou, the author is explaining how much poetry has changed in francophone literature yet I relate so much because the same applies to anglopnone poetry. His words couldn’t be more timely, especially when he said:

Many observers blame the Surrealists for creating poetry’s current malaise. Apparently, they drove away the audience for this literary genre by imposing knee-jerk and unconscious automatic writing, thereby forsaking music, emotion-the very quintessence of poetry.

( Alain Mabanckou, An Open Letter to Those Who are Killing Poetry)

For the sake of personal experimentation, you can browse through the currently published poetry collections or poems published in most literary journals, and see for yourself what he means by that. You might be shocked to find most of the poetry out there is close to confusing in terms of what the writing actually is, especially if you’re a new fan of poetry or only someone searching for meaning. But why is that so?

I speak not as an expert but as someone who was introduced to poetry from an early age, in school, about seventeen years ago. The poetry I come across often makes me feel like somebody out there is desperately trying to re-create poetry as we know it, so much so that they’ve missed the mark altogether. Because of this, I miss the good old textbooks which featured all the great, politically-driven authors from the Negritude era, and the ones who came after them, whose works somehow made my African, history-rich, French classes better.

Again, it’s good to know that not all poetry has to be a replica of that era because it’s nice to be innovative sometimes. However, we really must consider why we keep going back to the past century’s poetry texts and they aren’t boring (like not at all). I believe we love those for a reason, and the reason could be that we identify with their words which could be our own; only the poets knew how to say them better.

If one analyzes what Mabanckou denounced, one can conclude that contemporariness has created all these other genres that look like poetry but aren’t actually poetry.

Is what is presented to us really poetry? That’s the question! Any piece of writing that dishes up free verse and freedom from rules now passes for poetry.

( Alain Mabanckou, An Open Letter to Those Who are Killing Poetry)

Because of what he said, I took a moment to think about my own process of writing poetry, and whether I also fell into the free-verse/freedom snare in my own burgeoning poetry.

On a personal note, I think a poem is a gift you can give to somebody (unlike an article or an essay) to tell them how you feel about them or something you both share. Think of all the times a person offered you flowers, or chocolate, or a new perfume and you felt it was thoughtful; a poem can also be a thoughtful gift.

For those who haven’t mastered the art of winning the heart of a significant other using their words, you might consider a poem written by someone else that accurately captures what you feel about your soul-mate. Plus, sharing another writer’s poem can mean a lot to them since many are still invisible and need your support to become relevant.

I like the romanticism of William Shakespeare or the undying passion in the voice of Maya Angelou. But insofar as gifting poetry is concerned, if you want to express yourself and you feel passionate about it, anybody can write poetry. A good example of a noteworthy poem for a beloved would be “ Come and Be My Baby “ by Maya Angelou.

You have no idea how much it takes for a poem to go from a simple thought to an actual piece. It’s funny how people think, you just have to find words that rhyme together and put them in verse and you’ve got yourself a poem. What’s wrong with this sort of thinking is, you could have written your life story in the form of poetry and it wouldn’t sound poetic enough to someone who just wants to hear a bunch of rhymes.

I certainly cannot speak about every other poet, but, in my own experience of composing poetry, I realized that the raw material doesn’t come from me; it’s always there, and I somehow stumble upon it. For instance, I could be thinking about something unrelated to writing, like my own life, or things that may have upset me (I know saying this could make you think my creative process and all my ideas are derived from angst, which is not true), before a verse sort of lands on my lap.

My poems are the result of a breakthrough. I have no control over the long emotional and spiritual reflections that lead to the moment of epiphany (the ah-ha! moment). I have written and published eight poems in an ongoing bilingual poetry collection titled “Dots”, on Wattpad from 2020, and did it in less than a year. You need to understand that when a writer (in this case, me) wants to convey something personal through their poetry with emotions they aren’t capable of fully grasping themselves, it doesn’t come as easy as ABC.

The last poem I wrote in French was originally a song that sounded lame, though the chorus was something that could have been turned into a poem. I made it to two stanzas. Poetry is like music. When I read or listen to poetry; I am looking to feel something because I assume the poet felt something (eros, melancholy, joy, sadness, etc.) while writing the poem, as the musician probably felt something when they wrote their lyrics before it was arranged into a song.

I honestly think poetry, like music, is an art form that can stand on its own because writing is only a means to the end. The poetry drives the writing.

I have learned that before creating a poem, there must be a considerable amount of time and personal journey invested in it, even if it ends up being short, the process is still worth it. So, I figured coming up with a new poem once every two months or, when I’m lucky, once every two weeks, is not so bad after all.

Some of the best poems out there probably took years for their authors to write and polish them before publication. You have to give each poet his own space, journey, and muse (here not a deity; a muse could sometimes be the death of a loved one or a romantic affair) that will give birth to a piece of art worth pausing for a moment and reading because of how special it is.

For someone who reviews other people’s work, I know what it is like to read someone’s work and feel nothing. It’s awful. And as a writer, it is clear to me that not everybody would feel the same about my personal challenges; hence not all of them should be expressed through poetry anyway.

I love feeling happy and rarely write about it, and I don’t want to go through something difficult regularly just to have a breaking point and write a poem. Sometimes growth and inspiration come from practice. I want my poems to be turning points; from wanting to come to terms with my deep emotions to moving on.

In the beginning, I said that poetry comes in many forms and various mediums; yet many of us barely give it the attention it deserves. If I had to pick between combining a music playlist and a poetry playlist, I would choose the latter. And thanks to the technology that brought us podcasting platforms, now you can easily listen to poetry every day and non-stop if you’d like.

I listen to poetry about every day on this podcast called Poem of The Day and often stumble upon a verse that stays with me for a long time afterwards. So, to conclude my stance, I’ll say some poems will never see the light of day because they aren’t written for the public; hence we should learn to respect that and appreciate the ones that are published. And I want you to know this:

I wish poetry was an easy thing to write,

that people would look at it with different eyes.

I wish I could write a poem a day

as I like to listen to one each day.

But I can't bring myself to write

something I don't feel anything about,

because poems are emotions


And if I'm not affected by it,

no one should believe otherwise.

(From “I Wish Poetry” in “Dots”, coming soon.)

Originally published at https://theppsclub.substack.com.



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Priscille B. Fatuma

Priscille is a freelance writer, fiction writer, podcaster, content creator & marketer. She loves books, movies, long naps, TV series, and dogs.