Balinde Message World Poetry Day 2019
By: Bachtyar Ali
Translated by: Zana Osman Ahmed
In praise of poetry that is forever, and utterly avant-garde
We always face this crucial question: why is poetry necessary? Why can’t we or shouldn’t we relinquish poetry? This is a repetitive and perpetual question that seeks new answers on a daily basis. We are the offspring of an era increasingly stepping towards triviality. Human behavior evades serious and critical questions. Human lives are bereft of questions about the essence of beauty, the meaning of life, and the meaning of language. People vie to reach a state of “stupid happiness”; happiness based on thoughtlessness and forgetting beauty. Simplicity and superficiality has overwhelmed most elements of life, and even poetry is not sheltered from these perils. Like most other things, poetry is in jeopardy. We cannot separate the status of poetry from the general situation of human beings. An ignorant person; a human who does not respect nature, beauty, and life, will inevitably lead poetry to superficiality and death. Poetry is in serious peril everywhere.
Most disasters in the past decades can be traced back to the predominance of logos, the expansion of entirely scientific rationality, and addiction to machines and technology. The language of science, politics, and media increasingly harm language itself. We are experiencing a process of language rationalization, as people learn languages on a needs-basis according to their field. Politics, science, and media are changing language to a means for control and restriction. Gradually words become increasingly tied to quarrels; they are suffocated with specific meanings and tasks. Language is receding from its natural form. The more rational language becomes, the more its horizon diminishes, and the more estranged it becomes to its nature. In the contemporary world, using language to control humans is no longer theoretical, but a continuous process. Many people cannot read texts and understand them; they cannot think deeply, which traces back to their deprivation of language. Everywhere in the world language is molded, shaping humans and their feelings at the same time. Rousseau said a “human is born free, but he is everywhere in chains”. The most dangerous and apparent example in the relationship between humans and language is that language is born free, but it is everywhere in chains.
Language is not the only victim of the world we live in; there is a powerful current redirecting the revolutionary and radical facets of imagination. Imagination is used and directed like language today. There is a machine-like process composed of media, cinema, and sciences that tames human imagination and gives a specific shape to our fantasies and dreams. From childhood, the human imagination is guided towards commodities. Imagination, as a creative force, slowly perishes, only to become a force for consumerism and taming individuals. Imagination is as fertile, adventurous, and explorative as reason. In human history, the findings of imagination are just as, if not more, significant as those of reason. Unfortunately, today, imagination is faced with continuous systematic distortion.
Apart from these threats on language and imagination, there are serious intrinsic issues within the realm of poetry itself. The attempt to transform poetry into something completely subjective; into a kind of poetry that only works on simple human emotions, is still the most serious issue of poetry. Failing to understand the essence of poetry turns it into a weapon glorifying our daily and trivial feelings. Such a situation stems from the existing misunderstanding of poetry. Poetry is deemed only as a form of expression and trivial emotions and daily feelings take hold of it. This traps poetry within the walls of an absurd subjectivism, leading it to forget about the colorfulness of the world. Poetry is more a means of “discovery” and “exceeding”, than a means of expression. It can never avoid subjective concerns, but the poetic subject is inquisitive. Poetry does not reproduce existing elements, it is creative in itself; it exceeds and destroys the given perceptions.
Another danger for poetry is the continuous attempt to separate it from thought. Disconnecting poetry and philosophy, poetry and critical questions, dooms poetry. Throughout the twentieth-century, poetry existed through its connection to political issues; but political poetry like emotional poetry led the literary genre to profound poverty. Using poetry as a political tool came at the expense of its deep rational dimensions and of timeless and significant questions. Poetry has no value anymore as a political weapon, as politics has a much larger tool, the channels of propaganda. Poetry is increasingly facing the fact that it is independent and should not borrow its perspectives from elsewhere. Poetry is no longer a tool for political and emotional consumption, but has a more difficult duty, which is to consider the comprehensive experience of humanity and ponder the place and duty of humans on this earth.
Despite these serious dangers, poetry is still a weapon for hope.
Poetry is our only tool to reconstruct language as an infinite unit. Poetry is a persistent return to words before they hold any meaning; to revive signifiers and rescue it from any signifying. Poetry is not only a return to collective unconsciousness— where the comprehensive experience of humans is preserved as the Surrealists claimed— but a return to words before they are constrained to a single meaning. This is not a return to purity and innocence, as it is often claimed. Poetry works outside these moral judgments. Poetry allows itself to experience everything humane. Poetry’s intrinsic measurements are “continuous experience” and “an endless return to the beginning.” Purity in poetry means that we can return everything to a phase prior to the emergence of “meaning”. Meaning in poetry is the goal, not the means. Innocence in poetry is not a cleansing of sin, but a cleansing of utilization and manipulation. The power of poetry stems from its ability to resist becoming a tool. It can rescue itself from any desire of exploitation. This means poetry is one of the powers we have against the dictatorship of logos and the unilateral rationality of technology.
Poetry does not only defy the dictatorship of contemporary rationality, but also stays afar from the slavery to heritage. The attempt to return poetry to this sophist, mystic, and spiritual ancient heritage that was predominant in the East, to associate poetry to that traditional culture is a sterile act that will kill poetry. Just as poetry does not become a vase for political experience, it does not become a vase for religious experience. In contemporary poetry, spirituality does not come from religious experience, but from the thorough experience of humanity, its feelings, perspectives, and contemplations. Poetry is not a device to communicate God, but rather a device to communicate with existence as the origin of all essential questions.
Contemporary poetry is also a move beyond the borders of identity; it liberates language from the obstacles and complexes of identity. Humans write in the language of a nation, but real poetry speaks the language of all people. At its core, it does not only find itself, but also reaches towards the other. Poetry emancipates language from the complexes of the national language, it finds the universal dimension, which can speak on behalf of all ages and places.
Poetry is a crucial weapon we possess to keep imagination free. Poetry is the component of our imagination that cannot be subjugated by school rules, state laws, and scientific equations. Poetry is the pointed finger that always signals outwards, towards the unknown.
We are living in a world in which the end and death are spoken of constantly. Fear of “endings” has robbed us of thoughts of beginnings. In politics, philosophy, and most scientific and intellectual disciplines, the subject is always “the end”. We can talk about the end everywhere except in poetry. Poetry is an everlasting call for beginnings. With every poem, the world begins again, re-envisioned and reconstructed.
Poetry is not a means of entertainment, but is one of the most vital human linguistic activities. It is the equilibrium of power that is needed for humanity facing a controlled and directed lifestyle; whose sole task is to transform people into economic creatures. Poetry is the tool that should be used to confront absurdity and superficiality. The question of freedom has retreated and become forgotten, but poetry can never forget the question of freedom. Poetry practices freedom. The power of any poem is measured by the freedom residing within it.
The sole hope we have for seeing the world through a new perspective comes from poetry. The duty of poets is to be loyal to this hope.