Compare the number of people in the world today who can recite the poetry of Pablo Neruda or Yehuda Amichai with those who can recall lines from T.S. Eliot and you will see the relation between poetry, politics, the vital regulation of a people universe and the FUNCTIONALITY OF AN ARTFORM. Speech, you see, is a performance. Utterance. Incantation. Invocation. Chant. Ululation. Prayer. Even breathing is a performance .(That is why sometimes we snore heavily in a play to indicate - in the context of our make-belief - that we are asleep.) The meaning and subtext of any given word is determined by the inflection of the voice. In Igbo language, the tone /accent determines whether utu is the fruit or the penis. Those who mix up the pronunciation or tonal performance of such a word never go unpunished.
Poetry, primarily, is a mode of communication with the self , other people and God. It is intrinsically a performance. Writing disembodies this process. Writing also weakens the capability of the human memory to retain huge quantities of poetry. I know many poets who cannot remember their own verses. And a thousand lecturers /professors of poetry, especially in England today, who can recall the colours and sizes of their students' underwears and condoms than remember or recite any poem in totality. Writing, alienation, individuality and the valorization of the written word over the spoken word - especially in Western universities where poetry commits suicide daily on the cement floor of the lecturers' obduracy and desiccated critical sensibilities, - have diminished our facility for memorization, recall, recitation and the validity of poetry as code of conversation and human communication. Our brain cells are dying. Together with our spiritual selves which always feed on poetry.
This is a destitute time for poetry, an artform that has always served as currency for the most profound attempts made by human beings to communicate with nature, god, the spirits, deities, or the dead. This is why African-Americans, who are still holding on to the vestiges of their orality before they totally lose it to computers insist on calling their own definition of poetry SPOKEN WORD to differentiate it from verse.
Personally , I am writing an essay titled : Poetry versus the Ivory Tower : The Revenge of African and African-American Orature and Rap on American literary poetry.
Everything I have said above, unfortunately, cannot
invalidate the necessity, accessibility and permanence and importance of poetry as written literature or verse. What is crucial is for all of us to realize that the "tatum tatum" of verse, written poetry, is oral device. It is not a written mechanic. When we read : "Turning and turning in the widening gyre" (Yeats) or "He clasps the crag with crooked hands, (Coleridge) or "Jack and Jill went up the hill" (Anonymous) or Twenty froggies went to school (nursery rhyme) we must always remember that in that very straining for a musicality or memorable lyricism is an attempt to facilitate the power of memory towards remembrance and PERFORMANCE. Any African who thinks of poetry first as a written experience, then a vocal or performative one, is lost . He or she should be put in pond filled with frogs to croak until he or she regains his sanity. The Aim, as Frost put it, was always SONG!!! Derek Walcott puts it beautifully in his poem : "Forests of Europe" when he sings: