When we were young as Ghanaians, we knew poetry only as that which had to rhyme. So many of us grew up finding it strange to call anything poetry that did not sound repetitive or musical. And as we grew, many left poetry for the kids after us who were also taught to rhyme those lines for the fun. Maybe, they found new discoveries of poetry too difficult to appreciate.
But truthfully, poetry is more than rhymes. Many countless civilisations have built their oral lore on profound words handed down from a generation to the next. It hasn’t been lost on Ghana too. A few poetry programmes have blossomed that have given the artist a chance to partner with fellow artists and poets from across the country in sharing lyrical fraternity. Increasingly, poetry has taken on new meanings. It has become a new lingua franca.
There is poetry in everything if you look hard enough. When you see a car parked on the road shoulder, you can either decide to call it:
“A car, parked on the shoulder of the road”
“A metallic construction, spat upon a corner of the world”.
Either line is poetry in a sense but one states a fact and the other glorifies a situation. The second brings out the work of the better poet more succinctly. I find that poetry that appeals is poetry that provokes a reaction. The greater the reaction it provokes, the more appealing it is. Sometimes some poets state all the details and make poems sound prosaic, like in the first line. But in the second line, it will take another line either coming before or after, to tell whether the metallic construction is say, a car, a moped, a bicycle, a wheelchair, etc. This leaves room for the poem to say more (for the poet to write more) and for the reader to get surprised in the end: that element of surprise which is the hallmark of many a great poem.
Essentially, the poet is an adventurer more than he is a storyteller. His duty is to tour-guide us on the heights of emotion that he himself may not have reached yet, but which he explores along with us, line by line. Whenever I write a poem, I hardly know the end from the beginning and I like to see my readers also get lost with me in it from the start till we all get to an end where we are all surprised or disappointed or both!
No deception though, there is no single art for writing or understanding poetry. Whenever an art is to be appreciated, the feeling can be likened to what pertains the very minute a referee puts his whistle to his mouth unblown, to start the game between your team and the stronger opponent. The reactions are unpredictable. What helps poetry is the fact that it is a word art whose originator’s soul can be studied. Instead of his ‘soul’, it would be more meaningful but less poetic if we reduce the term to the baser ‘style’. By knowing the style of the poet, the reader/listener can predict the outcome of the game before the referee’s whistle. What he cannot predict is the score line.
Many respondents to poetry have complained that poets talk in abstract, poetry is difficult and its sentences hang with a seeming lack of bearing with the next line. There can’t be any more way to make poetry appeal. The more sensual a word is, the better it is for the poet. In chasing and finding sensual words, the poet moves into scopes devoid of everyday words, and he stays there. That makes him sound somewhat abstract: what with ‘a metallic construction’ when you can just say ‘a car’?! He levitates mid-heaven, conjuring all the possible words that will conserve the angelic feeling of his opening lines, hoping that his readers will come along. His search for an unforgettable few minutes of your attention will drive him to seek the most romantic construction even though he will minimise the use of any words you don’t know.
Next time you find a poem you don’t understand, don’t give up your attempt to respond to it. It is an invitation to take you on the heights. True seekers of the meaning of poetry will labour on till they discover the bliss that Robert Frost captures in his poem A Road Not Taken:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Beautiful poetry understood, makes all the difference.