How can you call yourself a poet when you don’t perform?

zamantungwa | September 21st, 2012 | essays, inspiration | No Comments

Have you ever had to explain what makes you a poet?

Found myself needing to explain how I could call myself a poet when I no longer performed poetry. And it was odd.

I found it strange that anyone could think that being a poet meant being a performance poet – only. I guess I thought that it was obvious that performance is more that just one aspect of poetry. The written word and the performed word are one and the same. They are two sides to the same coin.

If people only think that poetry is performance poetry, then that tells me several things:

One, people don’t really understand what poetry is; what it is that makes a poem a poem as opposed to a speech, prose or anything else. I’m not even talking about good poems and bad poems.

Two, because of the immediacy and tangibility of performance poetry (however tenuous that may be), it has become more visible and gained a certain importance over other forms. While this is great, it has created a space on which people only encounter poetry through the spoken word scene so they only have one flavour of poetry. Performance poetry easily outshines other aspects of poetry and it easily breeds tension.

Three, poets are not doing enough to shake up the craft. The funkying up, though great and required, tends to move performers away from the craft. Perhaps even diluting the poetry craft. But the poets that let the performance get away with them quickly lose their staying power.

But this isn’t about whether or not performance poetry is a good thing. This isn’t about whether or not performance poetry is legitimate. I’m just wondering about how more poets (performing and non-performing) can embrace all aspects of poetry so that the readers and audiences can grow with us. Too often poetry seems like this mystery, this confusing, incomprehensible this – especially when it’s on the page. The more we run away from poetry on the page, the more we give audiences the same poem, the same bad poem and eventually poetry loses anyway.

Poetry lovers want great poetry. We need to demystify poetry and make it better than it has ever been by going beyond established ground. I find that the better performance poet will pay as much attention to writing craft as they will to stage craft. The poets that do that well are able to make people love more. They entice the reader to want to explore all kinds of poetry instead of the same ol’ same ol’.

So how can I call myself a poet when I no longer perform? Well, because there’s room for all of use to do more than just exist. I write poems to understand humanity, to move humanity into inspiration…

why do you write?

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