I have always been awed by the relative strength of thoughts and emotions forming on papers. It is in the loud void of the waters and the depths of air that creatives thrive in. My indulgence in time enables me to meet ancient minds and souls as I rub shoulders with them. I often spend time with philosophy, sometimes mythology but always poetry. Poetry, the linear-calm, stealth-powerful and infinity weapon of wonders. Poetry therefore is the emphasis of words that stimulate the most hidden thoughts and feelings which in either brutal or soft ripping, lays the soul bare.

S.T. Coleridge surmised a poet as “an undevout to be an impossibility” this means anyone purporting to be a poet should partake in reading and writing as a daily and communal endeavor. It is important to note that times have changed and poets no longer derive the amount of respect back in ages, when like gods, they were revered and sort after for guidance. Their bustling prophet hood provided answers to many questions.

Some questions we should ponder on are:

What are the variations in poetry?

Is Spoken Word; is it a representative of poetry?

Should standards be the same nationally and universally?

Are readers to blame?

In an attempt to replenish and address the aforementioned questions, we must focus on quality and I state categorically rules too. There is no formlessness in poetry even with its avant-garde christened spoken word. There is a preconceived notion of hodgepodge that alienates poetry, asserting boredom and obsoleteness, disregarding dialectics. The steam that wanders across ‘open mics and slams’ as seen worldwide has shown the weathering of standards of poetry.

However, it should be noted that there are exceptional spoken word artistes that adhere to a certain form and iambic rules. It usually starts with the poems being written – when lack of quality spreads, newbie’s into the written or spoken art, make an uninformed, obtrusive, homogenous and uncultured stand and chest thump declaring that to be the right body of poetry. Coleridge foresaw this and declared “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is prose; words in their best order: – poetry; the best words in the best order.” Sometimes all it needs is a little bit of concentration per se.

Whilst a conclusive definition and understanding of poetry hangs on the slithering ring of Saturn, human capacity hasn’t allowed an explicit approach rather an ineffectual broader approach to flex the muscles of this sacred art. It is therefore upon us to explore what ails poetry internationally and nationally. A woman once noted that her hate for the much publicized Slam emanates from the evidence that “a bunch of college kids try to sound like a hysterical woman.” It is the same problem in Kenya; performance poetry has developed a syntax of banal and petty comedy that insists on forced rhyme, mediocre and often abominable word-spewing all in the name of enticing the groupie audiences who will cheer even at the sight of formless idiomatic and clueless stunts. Thus we are watching poetry sliding into the abyss of mainstream conformity that has bedeviled rap music into ignomarous child-fisting lyricisms.

I have always been attracted to double-mindedness, to art that indulges, rather than seek for acceptance. As a reader, I am enthralled in ambivalence, in thriving magnanimity in multiple often challenging situations. For the poets I admire seasoned or contemporary refuse (d) to conform to the status quo at any given time. The bewildering and sometimes vexing rubberstamp of literal criticisms isn’t a forte that modern poets are willing to accept leave alone listen to.

Dr. Tom Odhiambo asserts on modern contemporary writers (poets) who won’t take critique on their works yet whine about the state of poetry in Kenya. He remarked that “the critic is a mid-wife in the set-up. The critic is a maker, protector and conserver of literary and cultural taste.” This substantiates the kind of vacuum reasoning of some poets that they can’t be critiqued. It also cements Miguel de Cevantes observatory eye on the lack of modesty among poets.

It has been argued that the reason for degeneration of poetry in Kenya is due to lack of support of literature and/or poetry, limited audiences and the lack of funds. While this is true, contemporary poets and spoken word artistes should work on their pen and shtick respectively to create something bigger, interesting and thought provoking to shepherd audiences back to this art.

My poignancy stems from the fact that contemporary poets have refused to struggle and are more concerned with vanity and as such societal ills thrive unaltered. We must move out of our comfort zones. Accept criticism, read more and write more, adopt the universal standards and shriek at the thought of poetry as a form of entertainment. As Joseph Brodsky noted in his opening remarks we as a society and individuals should dig through his words, contemplate and alleviate poetry whether as writer, performer or an enthusiast as this will raise standards and educate the masses. He surmised that “By failing to read or listen to poets, society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation, those of the politician, the salesman, or the charlatan. In other words, it forfeits its own evolutionary potential. For what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. Poetry is not a form of entertainment and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but it is our anthropological, genetic goal. Our evolutionary, linguistic beacon.”

We must question the tiers of expression and set poetry elliptical wheels on its course. Since the Anthology of “Poems from East Africa” Edited by David Cook and David Rubadiri, not a single Anthology has come close to the poetic flowering of the 20th century. It is nearly impossible an individual to publish an anthology due to constraining factors as editors and insufficient funds. At the state of things, I am afraid to predict more doom. It’s paramount to note the efforts being taken though hardly traceable. There exists various poetry functions and my bias for the Hisia Zangu workshop that offers unadulterated critique on poetry and spoken word. Under the stewardship of Richard Oduor and Kevin Orato who generously guide and seek development of poetry blessed by the dreams of Namatsi Lukoye – poetry is recovering from its rugged bed in the ICU.

By Eddy Ongili.

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