We all love to call ourselves poets just because we can get a few words into a sentence and set them into a verse. We come up with amazing poetry that will make many shed a tear, laugh until their ribs ache, get angry, become aware and many others. Then there is that poetry that will make all great poets turn in their graves. The words are placed in a haphazard way, the rhymes are forced, it lacks creativity; let’s not get to the spelling.
Format aside; there is the issue of content.
There is a wide pool of content for people to choose from. It has been said that the setting determines the content. The setting here ranges from the place, the culture and the circumstances at the given time.
Let’s use Africa as an example. Africa is rich with different situations and events that can be captured in poetry. The history of the different nations, together with the present environment offers any poet (and author) different choices.
During the pre-colonial era, poetry, mostly performance, was much more of the praise of the deities, the leaders and achievements of the communities.
Come the colonial era. The poems turned into protest poetry that captured whatever the continent was going through. Immediately after independence, the poems expressed the hope of a better future but after sometime, the tone turned into disillusionment and bitterness. In Kenya, the protests took a new turn as poets fought for the freedom of expression. In South Africa, there was the protest poetry against Apartheid and the crimes committed in this time while in Nigeria, the Biafran War was one of the themes.
In the present, poems are a mixture of themes, ranging from the political circumstances to matters of the heart. The freedom of speech makes it easier for poets to say what they want to say with reckless abandon.
However, great poems are the ones that traverse time and space. They are universal. They can be read by anyone, and take them to the situation and time captured in the poem. Look at this poem:
A New Epic is Being Written
Pages have turned,
history is being re-written,
a new epic has come,
that will be written by the masses.
by the untouchables of India,
and the docile monks of Tibet,
by the peasant rice farmers of China,
and the fish mongers of Hong Kong.
It will be in the hands of the Kalahari bushmen,
and the Touregs of the sahara,
written on papyrus scrolls
by black Egyptian scholars.
A revolution is on the way,
capitalism beware,your time is neigh,
the maori have done the haka,
their tongues menancing their faces painted,
the maasai warrior has his spear on the ready,
the zulu man has his assegai,
baying for blood,
as war cries rise from Kibera and Calcutta,
A mob is on the move,
torches and stakes,
marching on foot and mounts to the sound of hooves,
they bay for blood,
the blood they bled,
they want it back!
The rastaman has his weed ready,
fire pon Babylon,
is his chant loud and steady,
this war is here,
a war fought in classrooms and boardrooms,
streets and gent rooms,
an epic is being written,
and this time..
this time the people are the authors….