Northern Drive to St Lucy

Northern Drive to St Lucy
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Poetry in a Nation's DNA

My mind started roving from the time it became public knowledge that President-elect, Barack Obama has tapped Elizabeth Alexander, a young American poet to read a poem at his inauguration on January 20, 2009. Incidentally, his inauguration is one day ahead of our celebration for one of our national heroes, Errol Walton Barrow, the Father of Barbados Independence. I found myself unable to put a cloud over this idea that has flooded my mind. The idea formulated took shape in these self-inflicted questions: Why is poetry of importance to any nation? Why is poetry constantly evolving? How nations promote poetry?

These are overwhelming questions if I may say so myself. In recognizing such, I said to myself, I've got to place limitations here if I'm to explore answers to the afore-mentioned questions. Also, I have this passion that compels me to share my thoughts for I believe that when something keeps nagging the mind, you should talk about it, the perfect stress reliever. In placing limitations on the matter at hand my thoughts zeroed in on poetry from a macro perspective instead of at a micro level which would draw attention to the poetry of individual poets per se, and that's not my intent. Now, please lend me your ears as I voice my thoughts on how I see poetry's impact on a nation any nation as a whole, but with constant reference back and fro to the nation of Barbados, my homeland.

So many times I've heard from folks with whom I have had the distinct pleasure to interact with say to me, "I'm not into poetry." How very wrong can they be. If you stop to thing about it, all of us live and breathe poetry. Some consciously and others not so consciously. How can we not be in to poetry when in a Christian society like Barbados, the Bible is the Great Book we love so very much. In the Bible it gives us a plethora of this art form we call poetry. Then to boot, some will write it; some will sing it, for when music is put to poetry it becomes a song or hymn; some will perform it, for when poetry is dramatized it becomes a play; some will teach it; some will critique it, and when the chips are down we as a nation embrace poetry. Why on earth then does the poetry of Barbadian poets of yesteryear and now is edged in our minds? Why too do Barbadians seek out poetry to fill programmes for community activities whether at governmental level or simply a gathering of locals in their village setting? Have you ever stop to think about it?

So, if one's preference is to write in a linear fashion of which prose is essentially that, what happens when the inner-self, the soul yearns to break free. Will prose take up the challenge? I doubt very much that it will. On the other hand, poetry is well poised to rise to the occasion in many ways imaginable. In order for prose to even come close and rub shoulders with poetry there must be some sort of amalgamation of the tools of poetry. Great speeches by Martin Luther King, President-elect, Obama, Winston Churchill, President John F. Kennedy and our very own, Errol Walton Barrow, just to mention a few, applied poetic techniques in their oratories and that's why their public speaking became so great. Their speeches became effective because they applied the techniques of the poet with respect to writing words in a metrical fashion that gave way to cadences, made use of alliteration and assonance and internal rhymes in ways that gave their words more force and made them more memorable. They placed emphasis on correct breathing and enunciation and writing in order to write persuasive and memorable prose. Speech writers apply these poetic techniques with great success as well.

Why is poetry of importance to a nation?

Poetry celebrates the sensuality of language, and words, of their sounds and their textures on the tongue, not merely their meaning. In poetry there is something for every one. Governmental agencies know this because poetry comes in many flavours that can boost the economy of the nation. Poetry plays a significant role in sustaining and creating jobs in cultural industries. The field for doing so is wide and diverse. For we have got populist poetry, performance poetry, lyrical poetry, dramatic poetry, didactic poetry, romantic poetry, dark poetry, visualized poetry, epic poetry, prose poetry, classical poetry, urban poetry, cowboy poetry, unstructured poetry, idyll poetry, inspirational poetry. Within all these listings are to be found a plethora of genres and styles. All the various kinds of poetry tap the creative imagination of the nations' people and cross over or blend the various socio-cultural and religious groups that make up the nation.

The literary tradition of nations comes through its poetry. The historical ramifications cannot be overlooked. It gives prominence to historical representation of what previous generations found beautiful, important or profound. Nations use poetry to incite, excite, placate or pacify people . Again, this underscores the point why leaders of nations inject poetry into their public utterances. The fact that poetry has several caveats, it draws in all kinds of people for it has the wherewithal to distill stories and emotions down to few crystalline words when seen or read.

When we think of it, a nation's pulse and heartbeat is felt through the poetry of its people. People's observations, opinions and even their trend of thoughts are seen through their poetry. Poetry allows them to give prominence out of the ephemeral, by the words they have written down. Let's face it, the nation's people cannot be described as monolithic and the various moods and fashions in poetry complement this fact. A nation's poetry allows its people to think outside the box, thus unlocking the door for further knowledge. In other words, the knowledge to take something simple and make one think deeper by bringing out the various shades of meaning. The juxtaposition of meter, rhyme, rhythm and meaning, both denotations and connotations, add more to the understanding and feeling than can be accomplished in ordinary prose.

Then too, there is the cultural transfer from generation to generation afforded a nation through its poetry. This in itself helps to enhance the learning capacity of a nation's people. Another important aspect worth mentioning is this: a nation brings recognition to its poetry by its acceptance of non-lexicalized vernacular with the propensity to drive the inner-soul so understanding of it is reached. How can I not but reiterate that a nation's poetry is important because it lifts the life of its people. It reflects who we are as a nation. How is that? Because it gives its people the tools to craft words with no restrictions on how poets or aspiring poets go about this creative process.

On this I'm not done yet. I've got to say as well that poetry allows the nation's people to communicate at multiple levels: symbolically, verbally, emotionally. It provides them with sound-bytes of literature, yet convey a great deal of information in a compact unit.

Let's face this realization that people of any nation process a sweet tooth and poetry is part of this sweet tooth too. Why you asked! Because it is motivated by the emotion more so than reason. Poetry connects people emotionally. We are moved by the aesthetic in the advertisement of a product rather than by the product per se. In short, poetry is purposeful engagement in the aesthetic which is important because it is powerful.

When a nation is overwhelmed by any sort of emotional outcry, and 9/11 just jumped out at me, or when a nation's passion, grief, or intense joy disturb the settled way of its people's lives, and there are many such instances that cause the nation's equilibrium to go imbalance. What happens to the nation? When such is the case, what happens emotions are laid bare? We turn to poetry--our own or other people's. We look for words to give voice to what cries out from within our souls. Through poetic words we rebuild our disrupted sense of who we are as a nation in order to accommodate a new understanding. Poetry gives us the tools to memorize and remember.

Why is a nation's poetry constantly evolving?

Language as we know it is never static. It is constantly evolving through processes that may tend to defy our imagination. This truism is aptly applied to poetry because poetry is the emotive side of language and has demonstrated the capacity to respond to an ever changing environment. The environment, and Barbados is no exception, has a multiplicity of cultural traditions. This multifaceted environment breeds societal changes which enable people to share and enjoy many and carry contributions to this creative art form. Today, poetry as a more open field for I see the many signs that have given rise to this versatility in poetry. As a matter of fact, poets are blending approaches and techniques from both the experimental and conventional repertoires. I tend to believe that poets are aware of the diverse preferences their audience brings to the poetic platform. Hence, this is a reasonable position to take that poetic forms and genres are constantly evolving.

Poetry is as old as the hills and modern technology is propelling the manner in which this literary creative art form is being assembled, promoted and delivered in any nation that holds true to poetry. The fusion of multimedia tools in poetry is driving this evolving process in poetry at an unprecedented rate. Why? For starters, the audience is no longer seen as the passive-listener to the muse but becomes active participants. The philosophy of constructivism as impacted the poetic world too. More people across nations I dare say are increasingly being drawn to poetry. I say this from my cursory analysis of what I see daily on poetry websites that span the globe. We can only give credit to the evolving nature of this amazing art form, we call poetry.

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Haiti Under Rubble from 7.0 Earthquake

Natural disasters whenever and wherever they occur impact on all of our lives. The Good Book says we are our brothers and sisters keepers lead by the Holy Spirit. Hence, we must do our part when disaster shows its ugly face. Any assistance, great or small, given from generous and loving hearts has equal weight. I'm passing on this information I received that Barbadians can go to First Caribbean Bank to donate to the Disaster Relief Fund for Haiti. The banking information is shown below:

First Caribbean Bank Account--2645374-- Cheques can be written to: HELP #2645374

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Reading Poetry