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Poets Corner: Why is Poetry Less Popular?

HOW I CAME TO LOVE POETRY

As an introverted teen I found solace in writing. All my thought was written in form of poetry. I also wrote poetry for my faculty and student magazines. Fast forward to many years, I submitted my first story and poetry to two different competitions. I didn’t make the shortlist for the short story contest but made third place in a National Poetry competition! Since then I decided to focus more on poetry. I made Google my friend and looked up local and international writing competitions. There were many story writing (prose) contests split into fiction and non fiction with huge cash prizes! The same went for drama competitions with mouth-watering prizes, but this was not the case for poetry. I mean there are poetry contests out there but few offered good prize money.

MY OPINION

That little story of mine formed the basis for my argument that poetry is not as popular as other literary genres. I won’t draw only from my experience. So I decided to engage my friends and mentors on long discussions. I also stayed late nights in many Poetry Groups to brainstorm with other poets. At the end I was able to collate some of their thoughts. I will share them here.

OTHERS OPINION

My first contact was Diego Donati, who believes that “to appreciate poetry you need to be sensitive and speak from the heart. And not many people are like that.” Mark Priestly provided a similar answer to Diego’s with a rhetorical question, “Because it only appeals to the poetic?” I thought so too. But must one be poetic to accept poetry? Soumya Naik supported Mark’s position as he believed that only poetic minds can understand the emotions in a poem.

My friend Steve Stone believes that good poetry makes people think and most are too lazy to be bothered with that.

“I think partially because it doesn’t get as much exposure because it doesn’t sell as well as the other genres. I think that might have to do with Rock and Roll becoming popular in the mid-50’s. Again with Rap and Hip Hop exploding on the music scene in the early 80’s. If there’s no market for it no one is going to promote so less people are going to discover it and read it.” Steve Howard aptly put.

Sarah Mulqueen quipped, “It doesn’t have to be written ‘correctly’, it has a law all of it’s own which I know drives my mother crazy.”

“I would have to say because it is often ambiguous and open to more than one interpretation. My cure for that is to write using common language in uncommon ways.” Tate Morgan supported. Kiran Sharan has this to say: “Perhaps because it’s much more difficult to encapsulate your feelings or thought processes in a few lines as compared to prose where you can ramble on and on unless of course you’re writing an Iliad an Odyssey a Mahabharata or a Paradise Lost.”

August Hill was more radical in his approach. “People are too stupid to understand metaphors and symbolism, they fall asleep with the rhythm if a poem is well done because instead of listening their mind can’t concentrate that much, honestly I’d argue mostly they just hear the rhymes. That’s my take actually.”

He went further to elaborate. “For what it’s worth the other day I was looking for a poetry circle in my city. Figured I’d look on the paper and internet and all I could find was articles about “Is poetry a dead art in my country.” So I’m not as optimistic as all the folks that say that poetry is up there. Plus if you look at it historically most poets that were historically and literary consequential died in complete poverty, mistreated by their society to the point of starving to dead, dying of disease or being chased away by their family. So this isn’t something new.

In the words of the French poet Baudelaire, “A poem never was worth bread.” I think it’s because of the abstract nature of poetry, a good poem is worthless because it cannot have a price on it, not because it is mind feaces, but because literally a good poem is world changing, and nobody could ever own a gift to humanity. Which is precisely the nature of poetry.” I agree with this. He went further.

“It’s not that poverty is part of the life of a poet, it’s just that we are forced into it and we find peace of mind through poetry. I’d say, if you wanna make money definitely don’t try to do it through poetry, now if you want to glance behind the veil of reality or if you have a message for the world, that’s a good motivation for poetry. You’ll be disappointed if you seek wealth through it, but if you know you seek something greater you’ll never be disappointed and you probably will reach it without even noticing it. People around you will tell you, you made it, and it will mean more than all the money in the world.

At the same time I wrote hundreds of poems, and what I noticed is that if you really want to write, you must write to write, not write for fame, not for money, not even for recognition… at best if you find kindred spirits you can share. But even then poems are not meant to be understood by a reader the way a poet writes.” August concluded.

“From my point of view (I am not dismissing how you see it) well admired is a bit of a stretch. I think people who like and admire poetry are few and far between and they might feel like it’s well admired because perhaps they see it more in their own lives. I feel like If I think about the entire country, football would be well admired and poetry, liked by some.” Emily Simmance said.

Akua Daps has this to say, “I think part of it is that people have lost the appreciation for the beauty of its interpretation. People want to be shown and told how to view it. Ex. Descriptive books and movies. Vs. How poetry takes your mind on a journey. People aren’t taught the literary tools to dissect poetry like back in the day.”

Luke Fallow has this to say, “Because a certain type of poetry has been perpetuated which is really self indulgent and depressing, so people assume all poetry is just writing about how sad you are.”

In the words of Steve Anc, “People prefer direct communication, but poets had twisted that already.
Therefore, they are confused.” Benjamin Davis supports this “It takes almost as much skill to read and comprehend it as it does to write it.” Cassandra Cassy added that “It’s more difficult to understand both in meaning and language. It seems boring to readers.”

For Michael Walsh poetry is a mystery for most people. “I mean, we do have the quite simple poem written about a simple subject, and anyone reading it is quite certain of what it is about.

On the other hand, we have a number of different types of poetry. Some almost never to be understood properly, and often no real idea about what it is about. I suppose in that regard, poetry is very similar to Paintings and Drawings. To some a simply painting is beautiful, whilst some you have to stand in your head with one eye closed, and still not get it. I think the ability to read poetry is probably a much harder skill than it is to write it.

In all of these matters we are talking about not just cerebral pursuits, but also entertainment. And people being entertained do not usually like to work too hard. For then, it is no longer entertainment, but work; and often very hard work. And people do not expect to have work to be entertained; those two for most people are diametrically opposed. People like to see and feel what is going on, and in the broad field of reading and writing, most prefer a good novel to read. It is there in front of you, and is relaxingly simple. Poetry, in a very general sense, is not easy, and it can be very hard or even impossible to understand. So what is the point? There is the adventure poem. I will refer here to poem about a horse in Australia. Not last century now, but the one before. Two movies about it. “The Man From Snowy River”. This is a long poem. Literally, a novel in a poem. It has an upbeat feel to it, some uncommon language, but by the end if it, you feel like you have ridden the horse. The poem literally gallop along. By the end, the heart is pumping, the breathing fast. You knew what you had done. One of my favourite forms of poetry.

And let’s face it, some poetry does absolutely nothing for me, and I love poetry.”

Ahmed Jouini gave a support response. “It’s less popular because it requires more effort from the audience than the other genres: in cinema you have everything in front of you; in music you can just zone out and keep listening as long as there is a catchy beat or some rhymes etc. This is just one of the reasons.” Abraham Conneh added further, “Poetry is either appreciated or not depending on people’s perception of it. If fuel and spiced well with some visual lay minds grasped its value. More exposure may get people to consider its value.” Also John Green has this to say, “The fact is, many people want something that is 100% tangible, direct, and doesn’t require thinking in the abstract with multiple meanings being possible.”

Nola Alvaro quipped that “Poetry is to be savoured in small amounts like the finest of wines.”

Marrero has this to say, “Cause people just don’t like to express themselves. Poets are realists. Most people ain’t. And not only that, but I believe it goes by generation. This generation is too distracting. Too many things going on around us. This is the era of modern technology, and mind altering substances. The list goes on, but you get my point.”

Colin Ward‘s opinion: “There are a number of reasons why English language poetry was entirely subsumed by song lyrics during the 20th century. Copyright law began the decline, the pseudointelligensia’s fascination with cryptocrap accelerated it, and the education system administered the coup de grâce when it ceased teaching its elements”

Ch’erie de Perrot‘s view is that lyrics for songs are written from poetry, tweaked of course to avoid copyright. “We are the inspiration of many authors, musicians, directors and movie producers. Alas, the underpaid brilliance behind so much, but for the love of it all, we keep going, and laugh when we see a slogan even on an advertisement… Smile to self.”

Tia Papillion agreed with my opinion. “A lot of non poets only seek poetry and interested by it till they actually need it or reach that point. A lot of people would rather go to get a love book v/s reading a love poem they don’t understand. Of course don’t have to be about love, but a lot of people think that’s all poetry is good for.”

‘OTHERWISE POETS’

Some poets like Benjamin Allhands thought otherwise because “Popular and or return on investment is difficult. Unless you self publish getting a book off is hard. Some spend decades trying.” Also James Horton argued that “there are elements of poetry in other literary genre.” I totally agree.

When Jay McDaid gave his opinion, it was completely otherwise. “That is simply untrue. It’s well liked. What you are thinking of is the fact that people are less likely to purchase poetry books. That happened when pulp fiction became the common denominator rather than the lowest. One need only drop into a gift card shop to see how popular the primitive verse is.”

Godswill Iren argued further; “That’s not true. Poetry comes first in the origin of the genres. Drama came through festivals and rehearsals which became adopted as a form of entertainment. But before that poetry existed through folklores and chants from praise singers. Songs and epic stories told in poetry form was the original work before other forms like prose developed.” Pretty insightful, right?

Haider Farooq opined that “Poetry is the fundamental reason of creations. Poetry is most popular. Even we like to listen to songs not fiction. We read fiction and sing poetry.” When I asked him why publishers prefer other genres. He replied “Please be informed that I’m not opposing other genres however, the publisher is a business man so he accommodates all.”

Kim Fleming bluntly disagreed. “I don’t agree! Poetry is usually about love it is the most exalted art form! Most of all religious scriptures of the world are in part or in whole poetry, and most song lyrics are poetry, look at how important love poetry is in religion and in song. Humankind has a natural desire to express the most exalted truth in verse and many songs are religious in theme. Personally I love Neil Diamond. He is my favourite singer/songwriter! I practically worship this guy. No matter who you are you have a favourite singer/ songwriter, I’ll wager!”


Knowledge is power, knowledge shared is power multiplied. – Robert Noyce.

That’s it for today at Poets’ Corner. What’s your opinion?

Categories
Africa Africa, Poetry and Love culture/tradition education folklore Igbo culture lifestyle Nigeria opinion proverbs

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: Proverbs and Meaning

Onye aturu ilu kowaa ya, ego eji luo nne ya efuola ohia.

Before I start this post permit me to greet Igbo people; those who own the proverbs I’m about to explore; Ndi Igbo kwenu! Ekelem unu o. Ndewonu.


•Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe on Igbo traditional Isi-agu attire

INTRODUCTION: PROVERBS

There are many definitions for proverbs but as it is said that all routes lead to Rome, we won’t go far. Instead we’ll look at a definition that highlights the key points we seek. Proverb (Ilu in Igbo language) is a phrase expressing a basic truth which maybe applied to common situations. The Igbo defined it thus: Ilu bu mmanu eji eri okwu, (meaning that proverbs are oil with which we eat words). This explains literally that words are eaten and that proverbs helps to digest it. Proverbs are at the center of every African conversation. The traditional village council convene in proverbs, the trader and blacksmith converse in proverbs, and children even play with it. Parents speak to little ones in proverbs, so a visitor may expose himself if he is unable to follow the community trend. It is common to hear people speak in proverbs in Africa. This proves that proverbs are very important in African societies. Likening it to the saying that the “Leopard can’t shed its spots” – the average African won’t speak much without using proverbs to oil the conversation. African proverbs are rich sources of wit and wisdom. Now let us look at the proverbs we encounter in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

PROVERBS IN THINGS FALL APART AND THEIR EXPLANATION

In the book “Things Fall Apart” the people of Umuofia which represented the larger African society used proverbs extensively. As a book set in pre-colonial times it dwells on the effects of colonialism and imperialism on the African society. In this section I’ll be exploring the proverbs Achebe mentioned in his book. I’ll explain its general meaning in context of modern usage. I will also set all proverbs on bolded letters.

1. Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.

This means that proverbs makes conversations easier and understandable. It suggests that proverbs are words of wit which gives deeper insight to statements.

2. If a child washes his hands he can eat with kings.

In ancient Igbo culture children are not allowed to eat with elders from the same plate. This is a show of respect and honour. So this means that a child is allowed to dine with his elders or the king only if he achieves or did something exceptionally great.

3. When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for walk.

This may read hilarious, the cripple is basically someone who has lost ability to walk. This proverb is talking about enticing opportunities that may strike up unrealistic hope.

4. A man who pays respect to the great, paves the way for his own greatness.

Is it not said that respect is reciprocal? Only that in this case we are more tilted to giving honour to whom it is due. The Igbo is a very proud people, they are known to disregard unfavorable royal order. It is believed that every man is king in his own house. Respect is earned and not just attributed in Igbo and other African societies.

5. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other let his wings break.

In Igbo land the general philosophy is live and let live. This proverb summarize this philosophy.

6. An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned.

People tend to be uncomfortable when negative issues concerning them are discussed.

7. Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.

This talks about understanding strategies one can use to overcome issues. Life is dynamic, and people must learn to change with it.

8. Looking at the King’s mouth one would think he never sucked at his mother’s breasts.

If you consider how arrogant people talk or behave you may think they are invisible. We can also say that the king actually is representing the crown and thus say that he is too confident that one may think he is fearless. Which may not always be the case.

9. Those whose palm-kernels were cracked by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.

Some people are just privileged in life, while many are not. Some inherit wealth and empires while others had to build from the scratch as the case of Okonkwo in the book. The proverb speaks of being humble when one is more privileged than others.

10. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride.

This suggest that proud people may never know when they fail because of their attitude.

11. When mother cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth.

This suggests that we teach by our actions or deeds.

12. A baby on its mother’s back does not know the way is long.

It is left for the one who works hard to determine how much hard work he did. You can feed people with your earnings but not everyone knows how much time and effort you had to work.

13. If one finger brought oil it soils the others.

This explains that one persons action may affect everyone.

14. There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts.

In Igbo land it is always assumed that people who make noise are cowards. The English version is the empty drum makes the loudest noise.

15. A child can not pay for his mother’s milk.

This explains itself. One won’t pay for what rightly belongs to him.

16. Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, know that something is after its life.

People do not visit another for nothing. They might have come to ask for help. Something must be the reason for every action. Another version of this is the toad does not jump during the day if nothing is pursuing it.


The explanation for the Proverbs are my opinion. I’m available for discussion on African literature and Igbo culture/traditions. Drop a comment or query here or on the contact me page.

© Oke Iroegbu