This is actually my column from The Voice two weeks ago but for some reason it didn't go up online so I thought I'd put it here.
I was recently at a poetry reading. People who know me know I love good performance poetry. I cry at good performance poetry. I’m moved, I babble on about it for days. It sits in my mind, bits of it taking up permanent residence. At bad poetry performances I look engaged but am, in fact, either ticking off things I need to do the next day or preparing a mental grocery list. My tolerance level seems to have lowered as of late, though, and on this night in question I didn’t even pretend to be engaged. I was bored -but more than that I was furious.
I’m sick to death of lazy writers or all sorts, poets are just more on my mind as I write this but prose writers should consider themselves warned. For poets, if you have “African queen” or African princess” in your poem I’m talking to you. Yesterday I watched a little girl on My African Dream reciting a poem about how she was “an African child” and I thought shame on you lazy adult poets teaching this young girl that stating the obvious accounts as poetry nowadays. That lazy, clichéd writing is okay- it is not.
The words in a poem should be fresh- and please note, this does not mean pulling out your Roget’s and finding as many rhyming, seven letter words as you can and then stringing them in a line and spitting them out in an angry voice while standing in front of the audience very proud of yourself, the audience clapping only because they’re being polite. No one understands anything because what the poet just recited was unintelligible, to the poet as well as anyone forced to be the recipient of it. That’s not poetry- no matter what pretty clothes you put on it.
I will admit I’m not a poet, but I am a word user. I know that writers must respect words if they are to be any good. If you want to stand before us and tell us your mother is an Africa queen, please don’t call yourself a poet. Don’t disrespect poets so blatantly by doing that. A poet struggles and fights with words to find the exact image she wants to create. She will not use old, saggy, overused phrases just to get to the end. She will not use flashy words that leave everyone lost. She wants to carry the listener or the reader to a place that she has created and then she says “Look”.
Good poetry is fresh. The words crackle in the air and hush all thoughts that try to invade its stage. When silence comes and the words are finished the images and their echoes reverberate through the ether tickling at the audience members’ minds forcing them to think. Nobody thinks when the African queen takes centre stage, believe me.
Please folks, I beg of you, if we are to make any progress, let’s respect the words. Let’s work at our art. Laziness has no place in writing.