Tue | Jan 16, 2018

Poetry - beyond verses and rhymes

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Ann-Margaret Lim
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Who is a poet, one might ask a dreamer, one may perceive; with their mind constantly traversing the path of the surreal, fantasy with myriad of thought processes on how they perceive the world and beyond, and percolating the complex thought processes into a work of art.

Sounds romantic yet intriguing. for the written word to be a poem goes beyond merely rhyming words; it has to be relevant, thriving and robust like the aromas emitting from a cafe and like the brew there is coffee, and there is coffee ...

"The would-be poets who think that poetry is simply all about rhyming words are not likely to have much of a future as poets," says Professor Edward Baugh, one of Jamaica's most respected poets and scholars. "Their poems must also have something to say, some idea/feeling that reaches the reader/hearer at some depth, as well as some sense of shape and development.

"Much excellent poetry still works with rhyme," Prof Baugh says, "but rhyming can't be the be-all and end-all of poetry."

There might be another perception, maybe a misconception, that poetry and poets are best described as being the romantics whose fantasy worlds are best in the realms of a fictional world, and disconnected from the reality.

"Poetry is as relevant to life today as it ever was," Prof Baugh says. "Although for most people that relevance has never been appreciated, and most of those who have some liking for it, like it only at a superficial level."

Ann-Margaret Lim, a young poet, agrees, adding that the advancements in technology have given a fresh impetus.

"Technology has improved the visibility and communication of poetry," Lim said.

According to Baugh, the rise of technology, notably information technology, is not necessarily inimical to poetry. Technology, he says, has put poetry more readily available to the people who were never book lovers or book buyers.

"Poetry is widely available on the Internet, and persons who couldn't get books of poetry published are able to ake advantage of e-publishing," he says.

Though according to Lim, the real issue is: does technology help to drive the number of poetry lovers, or does it only enhance the world of those who already are converted into and by poetry?

Beyond the romanticism and the flights of imagination, some key practicalities have to be taken into consideration.

 

FEW AND FAR BETWEEN

 

'Career' poets are very few and far between, but poetry is a skill that can be honed to enhance one's right-brain traits.

"There have been very, very few persons who have made a living out of writing poetry," Prof Baugh says. "Although there have been many fine poets who have become known as poets more than anything else, most have had to earn their bread and butter by doing something else, notably teaching.

"Ralph Thompson has been a businessman/business manager all his life, but he is also one of our major poets. Monica Minott, one of our newly emerged, most promising poets, has been by profession an account auditor, financial investment ."

Lim, who is a writer and a public relations professional, seconds.

"If you by 'make it' mean survive financially, as someone who is not in academia and living in the Caribbean," she said.

"I think I am asking that question daily."

The answer to that might be, in the words of singer, songwriter and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, "blowing in the wind."

How does one, then, make it as a poet?

"It could mean making a reputation/become highly regarded as a poet, or just becoming an accomplished poet, able to produce poetry that will appeal to the critically appreciative reader, said Prof. Baugh.

"In either case," he continues, "one has to have the gift, but also the impulse for hard work, for honing reworking the poem, for always aiming to surpass oneself.

He says that the matter of making a reputation depends also on the good fortune of having one's work accepted by reputable publishers and reviewed by reputable critics.

"There is also, for oral/performance poetry that does not need book-publishing, so to speak, the appreciative response, the praise of audiences who are not primarily into reading poetry," he said.

 

CREATIVE WRITING

 

While the traits of a poet are primarily inherent, one can hone their skills by pursuing creative writing.

"Many universities, in the USA especially, have master's (MFA) courses in creative writing, including poetry," Prof Baugh informed.

At the University of the West Indies, Mona, the Department of Literatures in English offers courses in creative writing, including one in poetry writing, as part of the BA programme.

He informed that occasional creative writing workshops may also be available, such as one that has been offered by the Calabash movement.

"There has also, for the last few years, been an annual workshop sponsored by Millicent Graham's Drawing Room Project," he said.

For all of these courses, degrees, and workshops, participants are accepted on the basis of the quality and potential of a sample of work submitted with the application.

According to Lim, to hone your skills, the key is to be immersed in poetry. This, she said, entails to reading, writing, repeating, appreciating nature, and seeing people for what they are grown children.

Proffessor Baugh explained the situation specific to Jamaica.

"A significant situation in Jamaica," he says, "is the existence of two different worlds of poetry, so to speak."

On the one hand, he informed, is the traditional, scribal poetry that traces its origins back to English poetry and the classics.

"Though," he adds, "now Jamaican in distinctive ways that include not only subject matter but also the interweaving of languages, moving between standard English and Creole.

"On the other hand," "there is our oral/dub/performance poetry, with its roots in reggae, and with its own, pronounced reliance on rhyme and rhythm.

"In any event, in both kinds there are poets and poets, meaning excellent poets and not-so-good poets."

For Lim, it is all about love.

"I love literature, full stop. I chose to write poetry over prose, because the craft and challenge of it intrigues me more," she said.

At the end of the day, poetry is not everyone's cup of tea ... or coffee ... if one may take the creative licence to use that analogy.

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com