Sentinel Poetry (Online) #38 The International Journal of Poetry &
Graphics Monthly ISSN 1479-425X
Sentinel Poetry (Online) #38
The International Journal of Poetry & Graphics Monthly
The Thinker as Priest: the Sound of Gabeba’s Name
I rise to salute Amatoritsero Ede, the editor of Sentinel Poetry (Online) for giving us the gift of Gabeba Baderoon (Beauty in the Harsh Lines, Sentinel Poetry (Online) #37). Amatoritsero Ede seems to have a gift for seducing thinkers into reaching deep inside of their souls to share profound insights. I thank providence for Amatoritsero’s gift; it is refreshing to read about all these new voices. I must say that the Sentinel Poetry (online) interviews have been a major draw for me so far; I have been to the archives and read eclectic interviews of writers I had never heard of. The editor may wish to consider publishing a collection of these interviews. Let me also suggest that the theme of featured poems should be aligned with the theme of the editorial and the interview. I envision an online journal that offers a central focus every month and stays faithful to it, one that peels strands of thoughts off that focus. Indeed the universe of thinkers could be drawn to the lessons in the strands, and join the editor, the poet, the writer, the artist, to sing it, just sing it over the valleys, over the hills, over the rolling plains of our troubled lands.
I get Gabeba Balderoon. Because Gabeba gets it. There is universality in her pain. Because we feel like we live it. Every day. There are delicious lessons in Gabeba’s stories. Hers is a quiet voice, an awesome force sweeping through my disconnectedness and gently plugging in all the connections to create an electricity of consciousness. She speaks to me. I stood enthralled as this beautiful spirit paced gently, back and forth, and wove words pregnant with meaning, tight into my consciousness.
Gabeba Baderoon makes a careful distinction between wrapping the truly banal in cloying wrappers of obscure words, and using the gift of words to peel off the truly banal from a subject in order to reveal something profound and unique, something worth exploring. It is an important difference; the distinction between pretty drivel and profound poetry. She says to me: Do not dream of images of the frustrated cassocked, turbaned sage on the stage. She says, dream of the gentle guide on the side. And she reminds me, gently, ever so gently, to focus on the road that lies ahead. And I agree. The sage must come down from that pantheon of the chosen few and guide his or her subjects with the gift of the word as truth.
One gets a feel for Gabeba’s influences when she writes about how she draws on other writers. In Gabeba’s choice of writers one senses that one is in the presence of a writer who is at ease with herself. These are not dead English poets; these are writers that bear relevance to my current dispensation.
So, what is the purpose of the poem? Who is the poet? What are we to make of Amatoritsero’s editorial The Poet as Priest? My first thought is that it is hard to quibble with the editor’s call; there is a universal ring to it. All thinking people should heed the editor’s booming voice. And I say, do not tarry; do not expend your energies honing your craft until it becomes pure gold, magnificent, but unattainable and sadly irrelevant to the yearnings of the earth that holds our muses’ umbilical cords.
So what does it mean to be a poet? Is Chinua Achebe a poet? Why? Olu Oguibe? I personally think that the description of Olu Oguibe as a poet would be severely limiting. Is Olu Oguibe merely a poet or a renaissance man of sorts who uses various tools, (including poetry) to express his ideas? Have you ever seen Victor Ehikhamenor’s art? Have you ever been subdued by the brooding unforgiving colors of his subjects? How would you describe the artist Victor Ehikhamenor? It is instructive that Amatoritsero turns to the writer Ben Okri for solace when he quotes him:
“If you want to know what is happening in an age or in a nation, find out what is happening to the writers, the town-criers; for they are the seismographs that calibrate impending earthquakes in the spirit of the times. Are the writers sleeping? Then the age is in a dream. Are the writers celebrating? Then the first flowers of a modest golden age are sending their fragrances across to the shores of future possibilities. Are the writers strangely silent? Then the era is brooding with un-deciphered disturbances.”
Okri talks about the writer, not the poet. If I was to paraphrase Okri, I would replace “writer” with “thinker.”
Gabeba reminds us that the poet is not dead yet; indeed, the poet lives in all of us. Gabeba’s words resonate with me when she waxes passionately on the work of the South African writer Vonani Bila:
“There is Vonani Bila,
whose performances are only transcended by the quality of his writing. Incantatory, attentive, a poet of searing
honesty who did not leave behind his critical eye with the end of apartheid but
also measures the brutalities of the present.
Yet, he is also a poet of patience and gentleness, and his meditation on
the love story of a political activist is unforgettable (in
Gabeba sees poetry shirking its reputation
as elite art by breaking away from the confines of traditional channels of
distribution of poetry. In the poetry of
“The new landscape of poetry
and prose in
In Gabeba’s words, South Africans are creating poetry that is “attentive to local realities, inventive and popular.” To which I say, touché! Sing it, Gabeba, sing it!
Ikhide R. Ikheloa,
The site does itself proud,
conceptually and in practice, the artwork is excellent and integrated, and the
poetry varied and compelling. From my exposure to editorials as well as
the poetry, I think it is a venue for thinking boldly and deeply about this
art, and for creating ways for poetry from
Before more talk about the site, let me briefly give you a sense of the South African poetry scene. We are in a vibrant time for poetry in this country. There is a growing local interest in readings and reading series, with poetry readings becoming embedded in public events even in other genres, eg. political gatherings, art exhibitions and conferences. There are popular poets featuring in the media, such as Lebo Mashile, and a small but important growth in poetry publications in the last few years, particularly poetry debuts. An important feature of the South African scene is the range of good magazines, such as Timbila, Botsotso, Carapace, New Coin and New Contrast. A major journal is Chimurenga, which appears in print and also has an online edition, www.chimurenga.co.za. Chimurenga publishes a number of genres, including poetry, prose, photography and essays. It is a really exciting journal - it is formally innovative and has an excellent sense of design. The theme of the latest issue is 'We are all Nigerian'. South African poetry publishers include Kwela, Snailpress, Umuzi, Gecko (University of Natal Press), the University of Cape Town Press (Younger Poets Series), Timbila, Green Dragon and Pine Slopes. Then, our largest public venue for poetry readings is the annual Poetry Africa festival, see www.cca.ukzn.ac.za. It has featured some of the best poets in the world. Tanure Ojaide was a featured poet there this year.
Now, back to my thoughts on Sentinel.
Your editorial on the role of poet as priest is substantial in topic and length, and from readers comments on earlier editions of Sentinel, is part of a trend in which you engage with important topics in contemporary poetry. To me, this is welcome and exciting. I crave such debate, and I’m delighted to have discovered such a motherlode of long, committed discussion. Also, you speak lovingly about craft, to me a crucial and overlooked topic. In fact, in your substantial discussion, attention to craft, the journal’s redefinition of the politics of publishing, Sentinel spoke directly to many of my interests.
I felt immediately engaged by the substance of the editorial. You are asking profound questions here - what is poetry and what is its role? What is the ethics of writing, and how does craft become its own ethics as well as aesthetics? What more important questions could there be for writers?
In the substance of the editorial, you contemplate the metaphor of poet as priest, indeed a powerful tradition, though in addition to being a religious metaphor, this is also a specifically Christian one. There are also other religious traditions where the ‘peculiarity’, to use your word from elsewhere in the editorial, of poetry is viewed differently.
You raise a compelling question by
using this metaphor of priest as poet. Now this is the kind of meaty
discussion I like. In the course of the editorial you answer the question
definitively by proclaiming that
The range of references in your
editorial is erudite, though surprisingly canonical - Hopkins, Blake - with few
Black writers or those outside
In all, I will read Sentinel from now on because I think this is where I can find a discussion of the kind and quality I hunger for. I am gratified I discovered it in such a high-profile way and thank you again for featuring me as your guest poet.
I look forward to growing this connection…