WHITE HAIRS AND FALSE TEETH
A report on the 3rd Sentinel Poetry Bar Challenge
by Nnorom Azuonye
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
- William Shakespeare (As You Like It, 2/7)
As I write this report, Rod Stewart is singing "Forever Young" on my radio. It seems like the joke is on me; writing about a poetry challenge on the theme of Growing Old while that old rocker's song reminds me of the many people who will never grow old: Stephen Biko, Thomas Sankara, Marylin Monroe, Tupac Shakur, Princess Diana, Marvin Gaye, Martin Luther King Jnr, and Damilola Taylor among many others. It is not natural to die young, and if nature is fair, though the physical and mental limitation implications of old age fill many of us with anxiety, it is in fact a desired necessity. Forward-projecting in poetry about Growing Old pried a range of emotions from Sentinel poets in the month of September 2004.
Matthew Arnold (not a Sentinel poet) asks in his poem "Growing Old":
What is it to grow old?
Is it to lose the glory of the form,
The lustre of the eye?
Is it for beauty to forego her wreath?
Yes, but not for this alone.
Is it to feel our strength
Not our bloom only, but our strength decay?
Is it to feel each limb
Grow stiffer, every function less exact,
Each nerve more weakly strung?
In the last stanza of Arnold's poem, he defines growing old as "…the last stage of all / When we are frozen up within, and quite / The phantom of ourselves, / To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost / Which blamed the living man.
Now this brings us to the September Challenge. How did the poets answer the questions Matthew Arnold poses in his poem? In all there were 12 entries for the challenge. As this is merely a report, I will refrain from making any critical comments. The poems were extensively reviewed in the Sentinel Poetry Bar. Naturally some poems received good reviews and others did not fare so well. If you would like to see the poems in full and the in-depth reviews and surgeries performed on them, you will need to get into the bar. It is free to join, and poems are served hot all day. Like I said to an enquirer who wished to know more about what happens behind the closed doors of the bar, "This bar serves poems in goblets red-hot. Come drink with us. There are poems champagne and there are poems soda. Come drink with us. Even now guiding words roll off drinking lobes of the seasoned, that the baby poets may learn to walk their craft. Come drink with us." You may have one or two things to say to the young writers. Your hesitant muse may rediscover her muse in the midst of the sheer effervescent creative energy in the bar.