Poetry and the honing of the self

In response to yesterday’s post, Rachel said:

I do agree that experience and exposure have a great deal to do with our dwindling interest in most things poetry. The more you know, the less you like. But I think, more than that, it’s the result of who we are and what we value solidifying, becoming less malleable, less ephemeral. Fewer poems move us because fewer poems speak to our now very honed identities. Instead of acquiring more and more poems we enjoy, as we often do in our younger years, the pile begins to get whittled down further and further until only a small handful of poems remain with us and move us no matter how often we return to them. In fact, it’s at this point that I think a writer’s best work can be produced, because the desire to write something that moves the writer can grow stronger, and something truly unique can come forth. On the flip side, it’s also the time where a writer can produce their worst work, or no work at all, as they lose faith in the power or meaning of what it is they do.

I think there’s a lot in the idea that poetry speaks not only to our intellects (and, let’s face it, to our emotions — though not without reason or rhyme), but to our indentities. It makes plenty of sense. It explains why I can admire Walcott’s writing — very much — while at the same time preferring Brathwaite’s (and Nobels notwithstanding, I do believe that the two men are equally gifted, equally brilliant, and equally important to the Caribbean); Brathwaite’s politics are part of what shaped me, while Walcott’s, while important for disussion and for further understanding, were not formative in my development. Similarly, with African writers, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (not a poet, as far as I can tell, but a novelist and a playwright from Kenya) speaks more to me than Soyinka, although again I recognize Soyinka’s greatness.

I’m open, also, to Rachel’s idea that this period — when the ability of poems to astonish and move the reader has diminished — is potentially the best time for a poet to be writing. I like that. A lot. And I’ll be holding on to it as I work through the various series that are calling me.

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