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