In celebration of 10 years of poetrypotion.com online, we are proud to announce the launch of our new logo. This forms part of the new evolutionary journey PoetryPotion.com is embarking on, that will see a steady roll-out of changes across all social media platforms as well as the website. But, do not be alarmed poets and lovers of poetry, the platform and what it has come to represent does not change. We are still in the business of providing space for poetry to thrive, online and in print. We’re merely tweaking the aesthetics, to make for a more pleasurable read.
Talking about aesthetics…
A few years ago at the Melville Poetry Festival, South African Poet Laureate Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile asked a packed house how can he call himself a poet when greats like Neruda and Lorca once lived. Dilemma!
At what point does the writer of poems become an actual poet? How does one identify a poet? There are thousands of articles, essays and think pieces online regarding the makings of a poet. I will leave that up to you and google to thrash out the details.
In Johannesburg in the early 2000’s it was all about aesthetics; What you wore and how you wore your clothes (dashikis and fatigues, earth tones and handmade hats and bags), the spaces we frequented (Cool Runnings, Horror Cafe, Shivava, Song Writers Club,Mind your Head), and the bands or musicians whose shows we would religiously attend (Kwani Experience, Uju, Roots2000, Basemental Platform, Monday Blues). If you were in Joburg during that period, and ticked all those boxes, you could practically claim any artistic title and get away with it, without necessarily producing the work as evidence. If you had the look, you must be a poet. And those that actually wrote poems found themselves oscillating between looking for self and flavour-of-the-season-Saul Williams-esque recitals Because, well, aesthetics.
Many, including myself, fell victim to that foolish trend. Instead of developing self into a better writer, precious time was wasted emulating those we idolized. This was not a new development or an isolated trend though;
In an interview conducted in 1999 by Robert Berold between Lesego Rampolokeng and Ike Muila, Lesego had this to say when asked; “what stopped the impetus of 70’s poetry?”
LR: I suppose all the States of Emergency and people jumping and running and stuff. You had to go deep within yourself to be able to project whatever it is to grab the attention of people. What killed that flow we’re talking about, for me especially, was that there came this new aesthetic that if you recite your lines in this tone of voice, that is poetry. It became a standard, it became the rule by which people had to recite their lines, you know, that’s why hundreds of people started coming out and going blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And that’s why we stood a very sorry chance of becoming a nation of poets. Because anybody who could actually project their voice in a certain style could be classified as a poet.Lesego Rampolokeng interview with Robert Berold, South African Poets on Poetry: New Coin 1992-2001, ed Robert Berold. Gecko Poetry 2003
With the advent of slams and competitive poetry more and more poets are driven towards adopting “a style that works” or one “that will get them those 10 points”.
In my opinion, slam competitions can be toxic to young poets trying to carve out a name for themselves (whatever that means). Poetry slams today are akin to megalithic altars; where poets come to sacrifice themselves for applause and bragging rights. Driven by aesthetics and eccentric performances, slam competitions have morphed into an assembly line, churning out robots, programmed into adopting a generic M.O. I’ve seen brilliant poets reconfigure themselves into duplicate versions of “last weeks winner” or “that Youtube poet with a million views”. In this age of cut and paste (I’m looking at you Hip Hop), popular aesthetics are adopted and shamelessly thrown back at audiences, who themselves perpetuate the side-lining of poetry not driven by the popular or cool. Look at me blaming audiences for poets jacking styles. Shame on me.
This begs the question: How does one reconcile poetic aesthetics with content? With the personal lived experience or the deplorable behaviour of men, or the ongoing rot in Governments or global conglomerates, or any of the social ills running rampant today? And is it my responsibility as a poet, to always include these themes in my work? What if I just wish to flex some inane vacuous wordplay, you know, for those warm cheers and adulation?
David wa Maahlamela states in his essay Ethics of Poetic Ethnicities, “poetry can surely claim a better function in the current times…”David wa Maahlamela essay Ethics of poetic Ethnicities in Botsotso 17 Journal of South African writing. Botsotso publishing .
So no, now is not the time for the vacuous and inane. The world is a mess and we cannot be preoccupied with trying to be the coolest poet driven by aesthetics . But alas…
There are many ways of analysing and evaluating a poem. There are varying influences that give birth to poetry. There are themes that appeal to some and not to others. I have often been accused of being too diplomatic, so let me not break with tradition; People must just be left to their own devices. But those very people must also accept that the work they put out will be scrutinized and analysed. Their work could be interpreted as either brilliant or complete “blah blah”. I cannot burden any poet with obligations I deem important, the poet needs to interrogate self and find a voice for the ghosts that haunts his or her conscience. The poet needs to draw her or his line between exciting and inciting and choose where to stand. The poet needs to decide. The rest of us will interrogate the text or spoken word accordingly.
Striking a working balance between aesthetics and content is not an alien concept.
I see both aesthetics and poetry in Sipho Sepamla’s blues. In the way Sonia Sanchez teaches hip hop how to play. In how Gill Scott-Heron teaches it how to run into the arms of revolution. When Natalia Molebatsi litters the stage with machetes that have no more use. In the whimsical recitals of Flo Mokale. In a bell jar, full of Sylvia Plath’s moments of clarity. In Lesego Rampolokeng’s no nonsense, whitened black heart. I see it in Blindfolds Evolution into Neil Atlantis. Phillipaa Yaa De Villiers’ trip back in time for a biscuit and Identity. In Benjamin Zephaniah’s playful and inviting children’s poetry. In the lamentations of Langston Hughes. In the raw-witchcraft, scattering toenails in my yard poetics of Makhafula Vilakazi. In Mutabaruka with his barefoot on the neck of the system, his toenails digging into a never-ending poem. In Prof Pitika Ntuli Sculpting bone in Afrikaans. In Pablo Neruda’s dead dog waiting on the other side for Charles Bukowski’s bluebird, as it steadily drowns in smoke and alcohol. I see it in Seitlhamo Motsapi ,the earthstepper, laughing at a shallow ocean. In Bra Don Materra, conducting a love song for Azania. In Zwesh fi Kush and Kgafela Oa Magogodi rolling words into a bomb Zol. In Wopko Jensma’s missing body, out in the city looking for his head. In Kaganof who won’t sit still long enough to be analysed or boxed in. In Kodwo Eshun’s headrush/Bio-machine/Afro Futurism telling us we Are more brilliant than the sun. I see it when Amiri Baraka and Myesha Jenkins sip jazz, swirling and mixing it with the poetry on their tongues… I see it.
Some break form, some conform. But I see poets and poetry in each one. I see a balance between aesthetic and content. I see a voice, looking to be heard. Not an ego, waiting to be stroked. Take note slam poets.
Poetry came long before us, and it will outlive us and our opinions of it. And when our future selves look back, at this generation of poets, hopefully we will be a kaleidoscopic reflection of today. Not some fading literary ghosts, sharing the same poetry through the same voice and aesthetics.