For The Love of Poetry

poetry

 

If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.  – Thomas Hardy  

 

My English literature teacher confused me, but my sister taught me to appreciate poetry. She explained symbolism, alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, and the difference between metaphor and simile. I got it but I did not get it. I mean what kind of person writes:

Hirsute hell chimney-spouts, black thunderthroes
Confluence of coarse cloudfleeces—my head sir!—scourbrush
In bitumen, past fossil beyond fingers of light—until . . .!

Sudden sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered milk weak;
As lightning shrunk to ant’s antenna, shrivelled
Off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun—

THREE WHITE HAIRS! frail invaders of the undergrowth
Interpret time. I view them, wired wisps, vibrant coiled
Beneath a magnifying glass, milk-thread presages 
1

 

Say what? Who in their right mind reads and understands this stuff? And yet, not comprehending, I fell in love with the cadence of the words of poets.

My first recall of writing poetry was in my late teens, when I was angry at the world. I acted out behind demure verses like the girl who leaves home wearing a knee-length skirt only to fold the waistband and transform it to a mini skirt once out of sight. I flirted with nuance, condensing meaning into short lines. Ambiguity meant I could write about everything and nothing. I created word puzzles in which every interpretation fit. Words like:

His silence reverberated with rage from now to eternity

I learnt the economy of language. Still, I wasn’t very good. The story I wanted to tell balked at stanzas and writing in free verse was caged freedom. Prose enabled me to soar. My sentences rambled beyond set margins instead of stopping around the middle of the page and I welcomed breaking them up into paragraphs.

Prose is my husband ‘til death do us part, but my affair with poetry continues. When sentences come to me, they bounce with the cadence of the words of poets.

Timi @livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

 

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman. – Wallace Stevens

 

My first poem was a disaster. It is only a disaster now after enough years have passed for me to look back on it. I forgive myself for it because my sister liked it. And since it was the poem I wrote in a blank card meant to wish her success in her final exams, I breathe easy.

“Why would anybody prefer poetry to prose?” my study group mate once asked me.

“Because that’s where murderers go to hide dead bodies.” I answered.

We laughed together for a bit and then he stopped midway, leaving me to see the laughter to the end of a minute.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

I expected him to get it. We were returning from a study group meeting of chemical engineers who had to fulfill a one-credit literature course. As the one who knew a thing or two about poems, I had spent the entire afternoon explaining a brilliant poem about a contract worker in colonial southern Africa.

To the rest of the world, poets go to poetry to hide things. To my cousin, every poet is a fussy genie, hiding plain language in plain sight with difficult words, like magic. Maybe it is true. After my first poem, I spent years playing detective, investigating hidden meanings in all manner of poetry.

Poetry is sensual word craft, as painting is to photography or music is to speech. A word, a sound, a sight, a smell, a breeze, the rain, any of these can trigger a poem. If a poet catches that trigger, the poem will lead them to a place where its gems are found and where everyone else will need to be a detective if they will find the poet again.

I wrote poetry long after I had written much prose. When I write poetry, I do not write with the intention to mystify. To me, writing is as much an attempt to discover a theme as I hope reading the poem will be for my readers. I stack a word after a word, speaking not to the entire poem, but speaking in that instance to the next word, the next line, and maybe eventually to the entire poem.

For example, I fell in love with Somali poetry in 2013. Due to the country’s difficult history, Somali writing is in a phase that births literature with heart. Triggered by romance and tempered by distance, the product of that literary love was poem after poem after poem. One day I shall sit on the shores of Mogadishu. We will forget all that has been. There, we shall talk about love.

 

I think about you, Mogadishu    

You star in my nightmares
You seduce in my temple
You challenge my sleep.

You keep me up till 11:30
Then you wake me at midnight
You should leave in the morning
You should leave in the afternoon
But by evening you’re still here
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

You hide many secrets in your hijab
I cannot unravel nor understand
Your smile is brighter, embarrasses the sun
You frown darker than night.
When you turn and walk away, I know you want me to follow
You tell me nothing; only in your eyes I see everything
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

Read the rest of the poem

Dela @ African Soulja
© Delalorm Semabia 2015

 

  1. Soyinka, Wole, To My First White Hairs, Poems of Black Africa, ed. Soyinka Wole (London: Heinemann/AWS, 1975), 282.

Photo credit: JovanaP/ https://pixabay.com/en/reading-old-newspapers-dusty-888864/

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

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47 thoughts on “For The Love of Poetry

  1. Great discussion about verse. I’ve found, the more I learn about poetry, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I don’t consider myself a poet at all, but I must admit…I am enthralled with the guilty pleasure of “hiding the dead bodies” in the ground of nuance and ambiguity. Being able to “write about everything and nothing” has preserved my sanity. Great post, Timi!
    BE

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I tend to enjoy poems that tell a story, Timi. I like your choice of the Ancient Mariner. I like The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and Maya Angelou, who is lyrical in poetry or prose.
    I do write silly prose that “looks” like poems. Smiles, Robin

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    1. Some words just resonate with us, don’t they? It’s good that we have a wide array to choose from.
      I like Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman- rhythmic, easy to understand, and powerful.
      I’ve enjoyed some of your ‘silly’ prose- they tell a story.

      @ Ancient Mariner, not sure what you mean.

      Like

  3. The complete poem is a joy. Love the metaphors!

    Love rocks
    You love rocks

    I shall look for you
    Carrying my album of dreams and fantasies,
    my only pictures of you.

    Really loved Dela’s poem! Tried to comment the author’s site but couldn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I had very similar thoughts about poetry as an English major, having to read Wordsworth. I still cringe when I think of “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” But something happened when I read Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Suddenly, I loved it.

    When I was sixteen and forced to read poetry at school, I also was angry with the world. I wrote angsty poetry for years. I don’t claim to be good at it. Then I fell out of the habit. In grad school, an advisor made me write poetry every day. I was angry about that. Then it became it nightly habit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved hearing about your ongoing love affair with poetry with prose as your spouse- sounds like your needs for words and expression are being met at every level which is juicy in and of itself. I also enjoyed the other writers’ reflections. Makes me think at how as much as it is about the words it really is about so much more than that.

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  6. Now, this thought comes to mind……how come i have opened and read almost all sections of the bible except the Song of Solomon??

    I appreciate poems…..i really do, but i still do not understand why we have them.
    Indeed, they say the ones that write and read poems are the more romantic.
    …….I agree, to the extent that such romance is like the ballon rising to the highest heavens but cannot withstand the smallest thistle.

    I mean, imagine the efffort to make meters fall into line, hiding meanings in innuendos; indeed…reading and writing should not involve such exertion.

    When i read for pleasure, i expect to read for pleasure.

    I like poetry, but i cherish the fulfilment that comes with prose.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Obinna, I’m not very familiar with the Songs of Solomon either. Maybe because the metaphors of a woman don’t appeal to me? Different time and place? Lol! E.g.

      Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
      Your hair is like a flock of goats
      descending from the hills of Gilead.
      Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
      coming up from the washing.
      Each has its twin;
      not one of them is alone.

      But the Book of Psalms, with the gamut of emotions expressed by the writers is a favourite.

      @effort, I think when you love doing something, you welcome the challenge. Someone said hardwork is a prison sentence only if it doesn’t have meaning. Another said, what is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. Writing can be hardwork, but reading shouldn’t be harder work! 🙂

      @poetry, I feel you. I like poems like Dela’s, which are simple but packed full with meaning.

      Like

    2. “.I agree, to the extent that such romance is like the ballon rising to the highest heavens but cannot withstand the smallest thistle.”

      @Obinna, this is poetry. You could have been very plainly expressed the above, but you chose to ensconce your thoughts in rich language and imagery.

      @Timi, truth is I no longer read verse as much. Now, the kind of poetry I enjoy is the loose kind that’s snuggled in prose. Prose written poetically grants me the greatest literary enjoyment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I fell in love with poetry in high school and have been a fan ever since. Although I don’t consider myself a poet. I can’t take myself that seriously. I’d rather just have fun and see what happens.

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  8. Poetry. Poets expressing beauty beautifully. So many things to say about poetry.

    I find myself going back to seemingly complicated poems and slightly scolding myself after enjoying them for not looking past the “big” grammar.

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    1. Maybe we have to dig deeper to mine those “big” grammar gems. I tend not to have the patience. That’s where Dela comes in 🙂

      It seems like those of us who write prose have had or have an ongoing romance with poetry. I know you write poems Tony. 🙂

      Like

  9. I used to love reading poetry in secondary school, I never did literature in senior sec but I enjoyed the subject. I loved how poets could describe an event/incidence/a period even in just maybe 40 lines. Their play on words is always mind boggling – makes one reflect deeply.
    I remember ‘The Casualties’ (can’t recall the author’s name but he’s Nigerian), ‘If’ (by Rudyard), The Road not taken, In the Navel of the Soul, The Second Coming (the poem Chinua Achebe got his killer title ‘Things fall apart’ from). These are poems I still recite occasionally.
    Unfortunately, life happened and I can’t remember the last time I read poetry.
    Will definitely check out Dele’s

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    1. The Caualties by J.P. Clark is one of my favourites! Like you, I like how poets condense meaning in short lines. When someone like Dela gives you background, context, etc, the poem really comes alive.
      @life happened, yeah, I know! 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Great blog post! I also didn’t enjoy poetry at school until I was able to discover it myself through writing my own inspired poetry and reading poets such as Audre Lorde and Sylvia Plath. In ‘The Dispossessed’ Ursula K. Le Guin describes one of her characters who is a writer as an “inventor-destroyer”, I think that is exactly what poets do as you point out they both seek to mystify and enlighten.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To mystify and enlighten, feels like to cover and expose. I like that.
      It seems as though many prose writers dabble into poetry at some point. What do you think?
      I’m glad you enjoyed reading.

      Like

  11. Great post Timi.
    I used to love writing poem. I think it came naturally to me. But then, I was usually more interested in the rhymes.
    You know, “love-above” “time-clime”…
    Getting the words required a lot of mental stress for me. So, I gave up. I still write poems now, more of composing songs for my local choral group. My newly found hobby is writing lullabies for friends going to sleep.

    I think I will just stay married to prose.

    Like

  12. particularly like : poetry as sensual word craft; music to speech, painting to photography.

    I can’t capture the lyrical feel…….but, that’s one of the best parts of poetry for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Poetic prose is inspired, unequaled, without compare
    And that’s because poetry is full of . . . AU CONTRAIRE! 😛

    Like books, art, music, and sculpture, I like some poems better than others.
    It’s great when words resonate “just so.”

    Like

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you lost your initial comment. How annoying. Thanks for coming back to leave another.

      You love poetry? Yay! You want to be good at it? Practice, practice, practice 😛

      Like

  14. Clearly you are seduced by poetry, livelytwist.

    As a teenager I enjoyed writing some poetry. As an adult, I fell away from it except for a haiku or tanka here and there. However I agree with you of learning to inject some poetic imagery in prose writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Poetic imagery in prose, yes!
      Good for you Jean. I’ve never really understood how Japanese poetry works, but some I’ve read are beautiful.

      …. sometimes I just read poetry and let the words wash all over me 😉

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    1. Some poets complicate things so! Simple lines can run deep and evoke strong emotions. Those are the kinds of poems I understand easily. But even those ones are usually layered with meaning.

      Here, Dela is using ‘simple’ language to write about Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. But these are the lines every girl wants to hear too. Then when you read about Somalia’s painful history, the words take on other significance… a wise man said that poetry is the place where language performs …

      “When you turn and walk away, I know you want me to follow
      You tell me nothing; only in your eyes I see everything
      Strange damsel of my dreams
      I think about you.”

      I believe in specialization- Dela does an excellent job reviewing all kinds of poetry. I visit his blog to learn more. Let’s stick with prose 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. To be honest, I always found poetry boring reading. I promise you it wasn’t intentional. It was what put me off about Shakespeare. I don’t know if it was because it was like telling me a plain story while pretending to make it opaque or because I just couldn’t see what the point was. When a friend asked me years ago if I could see what one poem was about, I really thought it was a trick question. It didn’t look like something hidden at all.

    But I found that, barring the complex meters and rhythms and whatnot, poetry was my natural language. I think now that my upset with poetry was that I felt that someone just wanted to make something ordinarily easy bumpy reading. Because being a natural puzzle-maker, I found it remarkably easy to see through the maze that poets built.

    I’ll admit that I often found some poems difficult to figure out. But I still didn’t like them because of all those chopped sentences and weird roundabout ways of trying to say things you don’t intend to say. Especially because of the chopped sentences.

    I still don’t like reading poetry. And I don’t write those meters well. I still think I might make out time to figure out all the rules and stuff but much prefer prose. I happen to hide stuff everywhere there too. Lol.

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    1. Lol@ chopped sentences and weird roundabout ways… XD

      @meters and rhythms, each genre has it’s rules and regulations I suppose- those distinctive traits that separate it from others. There’s some freedom to be found in Free Verse and Narrative Poems for example.

      At least you’re able to figure out the mazes that poets build. Before I understood the use of poetic devices, I couldn’t. Since poetry is your natural language and you prefer prose, I imagine that your sentences would sing and sizzle! Wow! Don’t hide your gift, please write more 🙂

      Like

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