Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary tells us that a poem is “a composition of high beauty of thought or language and artistic form, typically, but not necessarily, in verse: anything supremely harmonious and satisfying”. Harmony and satisfaction are key words here. Poetry isn’t just about writing lengthy descriptions of coconut trees or railing against a military coup. Neither is it merely about expressing love for a person or thing. All these may come into the picture, but in the end, the quality of poems is assessed based on their perceived aesthetic value as they are on the clarity of expression.
Poems are written in various forms and styles; they can be structured in many different ways, and could be about any number of ideas and themes. Whether it’s a sonnet or an ode, a piece filled with end-rhymes or alliterative rhythm, a good poem carries with it an aura that should capture the attention of a reader, make them imagine, force them to question or to reflect. It could just make us smile or laugh out loud. But it should have an effect. As a poetic device, imagery does help the reader’s mind come alive with pictures as they read the lines of a poem. It is however not a rule that poems should have end rhymes (some people go through works of poetry simply by inspecting for rhymes). Some of the most impressive poems are free verses – they do not employ any of the ‘sound effects’ which people may expect to find in poems. They’re impressive because they still possess great harmony, clarity and deal with universal themes in an engaging way.
Learning to write poems begins with reading. The rich tradition of poetry can be tapped into by studying better-known texts from Shakespeare or Milton or Pope, and more recent material from the local or international scene. Indigenous cultures are also a source of colourful epics and other interesting poetic forms. Reflection on these, as well as on life’s themes in general, leads to the formation of a more sophisticated outlook on existence. Rhythm and impressive description are more easily achieved by people who have an eye for creative word combinations and symbolisms. In short, practice makes perfect. But interest and passion ignite and sustain persistence and consistency in practice.
Budding poets or enthusiasts may join poetry clubs or groups, where works may be shared and discussed. The ideas of fellow poets could provide new insights into the art of poetry while inspiring one to become a better poet. Online forums have made this easier, and social media platforms aid communication among them. Information about meetings, conferences and competitions are usually made available through these media. Competitions afford the poet the chance to test themselves against other, perhaps more experienced poets. Of course, prize money won from these competitions may boost a poet’s career. Some of these contests also reward winners by publishing their poems in anthologies.
A wider audience can be reached through the publication of poems in literary or poetry corners of websites, newspapers and magazines, as well as in anthologies. Poets may also set up blogs to showcase their works and have them reviewed by readers who are likely to be poetry enthusiasts. It is true that poetry doesn’t enjoy a wide following in Nigeria. But the audience for poetry in its various forms is growing. Spoken word events are beginning to get greater publicity, and interest in that genre seems to be growing.As Nigeria’s cultural scene adapts to globalising influences, poetry is likely to become a fashionable means of expression, attracting greater interest from a more sophisticated populace.
At her 3rd writers’ conference, Connect Nigeria is pleased to have Efe Paul Azino, one of Nigeria’s leading performing poets and author of For Broken Men Who Often Cross, speak on the topic, Writing and Performing Poetry That Pays. The conference is on Saturday, May 21st, 2016, at The Sleek centre, 141 Ahmadu Bello Way, opposite Silverbird Galleria, Lagos. Log on to connectnigeria.com/writers/2016 to register for free.