Editorial: The Poet as Terrorist continued from Previous Page


If it is ‘sexy’ enough they pass through the halls of Capitalia. Then their offerings become poetry as ‘commodity’, upon which the publisher dare bet his cringing dollars, with the hope that the wayward investment might win a local prize or two at the least or the Nobel at the most and increase sales. Publishers are not vultures, no; they are businessmen. And in the world of high-strung capitalism you put your money where your ‘belly’ is. This is especially so for the cash-and-carry publisher – the vanity press or the new-fangled electronic Publisher-on-Demand. They are the hated handmaiden of poetasters; all are equally detestable to the trade or educational publisher because they simply allow these up-to-no-good loafers turn belligerent. 


 So poetry generally becomes untouchable in the world of trade book publishing – no point sniffing what you do not intend to eat. The harassed poetaster has to take his dirty-bomb ware to little unknown corners of the publishing fringe. Some have tried luring acceptance by beating out popular poems, through the ‘slam industry’. It is working miracles amongst youth in need of distraction from drugs and other more lethal poisons. After all poetry is better than pot! But your self-respecting trade publisher is not buying it; so much for poetry as commodity.

What about poetry as transforming idea, that is, poetry as ‘value’ but not necessarily a commodity; poetry as the ‘idea and dynamic’ that has been the engine of cultural revolutions and huge social changes as within the Harlem Renaissance in America and its resonance in the Black Consciousness impulse of Apartheid South African poetry; Negrismo and Negritude in Cuba and Paris respectively? There was much dross in the work of these periods – perhaps important dregs for their impassioned messages – but we are looking at the sum total of the gold that left the dross at the bottom of the alchemist pot. Perhaps this is a place to comment on the criticism of ‘quaint’ poetry that would ignore the urgency of the message; message – especially political message, should not be ignored, of course, but dressed with a grace of execution.

What would the history of the civil rights movement in America be like without the energising rhetoric of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance? Or can we imagine a free South Africa without the work of her poets, who suffered much to keep the spirit of those in the trenches alive? Would it have been wise for the publisher to condemn these to the edge of their budget sheets? Perhaps we ask too much of a business man by expecting him to sow where he will certainly not reap! Or we are appealing to higher ideals in a money system, whose wheeling and dealing requires an imprisonment of ‘the idea’ in the first place. Nevertheless poetry was at the forefront of modern political struggles of the oppressed in the South – the south denoting all areas of modernity suppressed under the Universalist rhetoric of an aggressive North.

Poetry was instrumental in the liberation of Africa from physical colonialism, in the upliftment of African America and her inclusion in the polity as enfranchised citizenry; in cultural rejuvenation from Cuba to Haiti and in the resurgence of cultural pride amongst the black Diaspora as evinced in the Negritude movement. As such poetry is relevant, even if in the background of overarching cultural movements all over the world. Unfortunately, the proliferation of bad poetry today removes from the ‘value’, which the genre is supposed to carry along with it and confuses publishers the more while legitimising their suspicions of the declaiming bard.

The more headless rhyming there is out there, the less likely publishers are to take poets serious. So we have sad small presses entering the fray. It helps indeed but still limits poetry, which could otherwise – as discourse – have important socio-political import. The naming of one effort in Canada, as ‘Sorrowland’ Press is instructive in underscoring the sate of affairs. For the publisher, who seeks manuscripts as the ‘super commodity’ his response to the poet’s bickering would probably be:

“…ach! Be gone, take your sorrow elsewhere!”   But there is still hope out there: ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’



Amatoritsero Ede

August 1, 2006



Ede is a Writer-in-Residence, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.


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Sentinel Poetry (Online) #45August 2006   ISSN 1479-425X


Editor: Amatoritsero Ede

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