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The International Writers Magazine

tolu ogunlesi
An Nigerian Poet makes a decision or two...

We often make the mistake of thinking that solving someone else's poetry means trying to attain absolute alignment with the Poet's soul. We assume that we need to sequence the 'receptivity' of our brain or soul or heart to the exact rhythm of The Inspiration; on the same (muse-ical) key......
Ergo, we violently plough the fields of images and words, in search of that sole pearl of meaning and interpretation sowed by the poet, instead of believing that the pearl is not in the field but in us.
It refuses to dawn on us that we have been entrusted with every Pearl from Before the Beginning - every possibility (and permutation) of meaning, theme and beauty. The Pearls are present somewhere deep within us.

And no two pearls are ever the same. In fact, no pearl remains the same for very long, right there within you, under the skilfull fingers of time, they take on new skins or reveal old ones, they breed new gems, or bleed the pain that birthed them - unearth the future, - or assemble the past.
My pearl is what I find, whatever it may be, and, yours - yours too is what you find.
All it takes is our believing. believing that what we hold in our hands are pearls, even if we think otherwise.
I can spout all of this, speak so confidently and knowingly of Poetry, and yet still breed my doubts (yes, they are truly mine, stamped and labelled), I can still lie awake wondering if I''ll ever Be a Poet. It is a Pilgrimage whose progress is uncertain – sometimes more like a Pil-grimace.
Not as if I Really Really Want to be a Poet though (Poetry may just be – the Planet’s Greatest CheatMode – Fluke – Overlooked Berlin wall – Linguistic algebra – The ever elusive 'x' – Weapon of Mass Confusion).

I really want to be a Something Else. But Ineed to be certain first of all that ICAN be a poet, that I'm not trying to be A Something Else 'cos i couldn't gain admission into Poetry’s Passworded Places.
it always happens just after i read a great poem, especially one written by a human being - (birdshit dropping accurately on a human head is avian poetry, not human-being poetry) - I lie awake, committing mental suicide over and over again with the realization of how Unpossible it would have been for my Rod to divine that kind of Promised land, knowing that the arms of my Inspiration wouldn't have lifted me high enough to apprehend the skystrung branches where RealWords dwell like supernatural fruits.

I lie awake, unable to sleep. My eyes sleep, but my mind pries them apart, splits the blinds for night to flood in.

Wole Soyinka for example, hoarding meaning, (like a civil servant's party, or an owambe constipation), deploying soyinkanese and its mystery-eyed samarkandesque syntax to sow ripe aches in my grey ridges. In his poems Irecognise the Assassins of my Poetic Longing.

In all things, however, give Thanks!
Thank God for Carver and Maya, though. Okot too, and Zephaniah. They help you refeel like a poet, leave a lifeboat behind for you, after you have wobbled and fumbled off the Titanic…

Senghor ain't bad ( i woNdER wHat E.e cUmmINGs wouLD thInk). He leaves me straining to see Big Black Breasts on every Tree, on every Taunt of Thunder and every Lysis of Lightning………………..
I'm still awake.... crawling towards dawn, towards the discovery of new Assassins. Sometimes I succeed in dreaming, dashing from juxtaposition to juxtaposition,trying to find the connecting threads, still seeking assurance that there is a Poet somewhere in me.

As I was going to St. Ives I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven cats. Each cat had seven kits. How many were going to St. Ives?
I really wouldn’t have been able to call myself a Poet if hadn’t got published. I wouldn’t have been published if I hadn’t submitted. I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have submitted if I hadn’t written. I wouldn’t have written if I hadn’t read that book (about how to "Build a fire from your Life"), I wouldn’t have read that book if I hadn’t bought it, I wouldn’t have bought it if I hadn’t made a go at believing I was a Poet (ie making a pass at Poetry), I wouldn’t have made a go at believing I was a Poet if I could do the things that other normal youngsters did – like singing, rapping and dancing…
I have become a Poet because I have had to Become Something.

Now I have come to the conclusion that Poetry is, in a sense, not a High Art, because everybody believes they’ve got it in them, it’s a Native of them
I write Poems too, says Everyone.
I’ve got a brother who writes Poems, only he doesn’t write them for any other person than himself, he just expresses himself on paper.

To the multitude, Poetry is Pour-etry. And tell me, who cannot Pour? Spontaneously, sporadically, onto paper – who doesn’t have content to Pour? Poetry is just the Voice, The Dialect, The Accent of the Soul.
For this reason I have decided not to become a Poet. Or better still, to Unbecome one. In other words, It is rather Unbecoming of me to want to bend at my knees to Become a Poet.
My solace lies in someone else’s words (which just goes on to prove that I ain’t a Poet):
I am not a Poet, that’s why I write Poetry
I am a Something Else who writes Poetry, who partakes of the Low Art in the Lower Room, with countless other disciplineless? Disciples…
The fingers of my Desire are stretched taut towards High Art, like Fiction – Literary Fiction sounds more like it… This is why I want to be "what I want to be when I grow up".
© tolu ogunlesi May 2004

tolu ogunlesi, in addition to being a member of the advisory panel of The MUSE APPRENTICE GUILD ( is the author of the just released poetry collection LISTEN TO THE GECKOS SINGING FROM A BALCONY (oct 2003; Jacobyte Books, Australia; available for sale online as a paperback and also in ebook format.
you can click here to see the book,view an excerpt and/or make a purchase.

Fiction pages here


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