Why we need raging poetry in this age of national gangsters
“By 40, every person gets the face that they deserve …” said the immortal Irish wit and playwright Oscar Wilde.
It can be successfully argued, then, that every age gets the literature that it deserves.
As we hit the twilight of the second decade in Kenya, we find ourselves at a new global dawn in literature, not just in methodology but in its very medium itself, with the Internet.
The normal Kenyan’s moral and religious ideals have been disappearing, even as the social core melts and sexual mores diversify. Our politics, devoid of all ideology and firmly entrenched on ethnicity, has become an amoral zero-sum game: from the top where it is all about Darwinian ‘winner take all’ to MPs where the stomach, allowances, are both key and King – to the exclusion of everything else in Kenya.
Many Kenyans would say our politicians need prayers to save them from their Almighty Greed.
But I think what is wanting is poetry, a powerful prayer of absolution by the likes of Allison Cobb.
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“I forgive you mouth of MP (chewing the national granary in maize cobs), the eating teeth and budded tongue, the epiglottis, pharynx and the tough-ringed trachea; I forgive you (MP’s) esophagus, moist mucosa, your coiled intestines lined in tissue soft as velvet (where the maize cobs go to rest) in the docile stomach sack. I also forgive your anus (as I forgive your fingers that sack our coffers).’
Voice of the voiceless
Although the great British writer George Orwell, had no patience with poetry (‘of what use will words be against a machine-gun?’ he famously said in 1942) – once the utility value is expunged from the ‘assigned’ usages of poetry, then we can begin to treat poetry in the same way we do prayer; and have national poetry breakfasts.
To paraphrase the famous co-founder of communist ideology, Karl Marx, poetry can become the ‘Voice of the Voiceless, hope of the hopeless and soul of the soulless,’ especially in the age of social media – which is what the last decade in Kenya has been about, especially amongst the ranks of the Youth.
The economy has disintegrated, the million jobs a year for youth is a mirage,inflation is high – and so are the youth, but on marijuana in their existential misery. Poetry, like rice, best grows in flood plains (of tears and pain).
With a growing permanent underclass, great unemployment, growing indebtedness to neo-Colonial powers like China and churches that are nothing but viosks and scams, with arrogant pastors preaching rubbish, there is room for a raging kind of protest poetry on social media spaces against this state of national affairs.
In other words, poetry can become the opiate of creative millennials.
But not just any section of social media.
As the youth know, Instagram is for showing off your ‘fabulous life’ whereas older folks know that Twitter is for telling other people off, sometimes in the most base of ways.
Which is why, in the 2020s, people – by which I mean poets young and old – ought to begin looking at that ‘teenager’ of social media Facebook (which makes Facebook a grandpa in Internet years) to do protest poetry as their posts.
For shy poets who would never stand up to do the Spoken Word/Open Mike like the way guys like Mufasa, Dorphan and Number Nane did in the last decade in Nairobi, the net’s one-on-oneness can camouflage and loosen the imagination, even as it multiples the outlets for one’s expression.
When I published my first book ever, a collection of poems ironically titled What If I’m a Literary Gangster just before the 2007 General Election, I took a lot of artillery from professors like late Chris Wanjala (who later became a top promoter of our brand of poetry).
The themes that troubled us then were inequality (Trading Places), the Iraq War (Saluting Boots), lack of mashujaa remembrance (Dedan Kimathi’s Dead Dreams) and ‘kaburu’ KC mentality (Sisina’s Sin).
Fast forward a dozen years on, Al Shaabab warfare, the end of a mostly dead decade of decay, and flashy gold dealer scum artists as our youth’s ‘hustler’ models.
On the edge of a revolution there might be a room yet for an inspired poetry collection: ‘All that Glitters is not Gold.’ Or ‘What If I am a Wash Wash?’
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