“STYLISTIC DIVERSITY, A LIVING PHENOMENON
SHAPING THE INDIVIDUALITY”
Patrick Sammut, Malta, March 2009
Vice-President Maltese Poets Association (founded 1975)
Most distinguished President and Poet Writer and Editor Kristaq F. Shabani, Secretary General, Poet,
Agron Shele, poets, writers and friends of literature and the arts present at the International Symposium “Poetic Muse” Pegasi 2009, greetings from Malta and the Maltese Poets Association.
Feedback from poets all over the world:
I must say that it was a surprise, but also a privilege, for me to be part of this international symposium by being asked to prepare a speech about “Stylistic diversity, a living phenomenon shaping the individuality”. The first thing that came to my mind was that the subject was too big and at the same time too vague to be treated in so much a imited space. Thus, I immediately thought of asking the help of some poets and friends of mine – with whom I correspond regularly through e-mail and traditional post – to give me personal feedback regarding the present theme. • One of the first to answer was Teresinka Pereira,BRASILIAN-AMERICAN poet and President of the International Writers and Artists Association (IWA), and of the International Congress of the Society of Latin Culture. In her words: “When writing poetry I prefer to diversify my poetical style instead of using the monotonous consistency of an old tone, have self compassion towards my feelings, asking rhetorical questions. Diversity is creativity. I also try to develop the poem with a substantial meaning, without repetition. I use short verses and go right to the point, instead of taking the readers’ time, annoying and abusing their patience. I also think I have a long way to go towards that desired ideal style5” • A somewhat similar response comes from poetess and Associate Professor from he Centre of Applied English Studies of the University of HONG KONG, AgnesLam, observed that, “I hate repeating myself because I get bored and I am afraid I will bore my readers. So I find it hard to write about the same theme unless I can find a new angle or a new way of saying something. So thematic and/or stylistic diversity can help to make me not bored with my own writing. The more I write though, the harder it is not to be bored with my own writing. But then, that forces me to grow. To me therefore, while the voice in my writing might have some essence which does not change, there is a part which changes – perhaps the themes or perhaps the style or perhaps both.” • An immediate reply came also directly from ISRAEL, this time from Ada Aharoni, Peace Culture Researcher, writer, poet, lecturer and founder and President of IFLAC: The International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace. Her feedback regarding “Stylistic diversity, a living phenomenon shaping the individuality” was the following: “Speaking for myself, I am not aware that my individuality has been shaped by any stylistic diversity, not of my own and not that of others. It is rather the other way round: it is my individuality that shapes my stylistic diversity.
My character and individuality has usually been shaped by people, writers and poets I love and admire, mostly for their ideas, their view of life, values, humanism and kindness. And why call: “Stylistic diversity – a living phenomenon?” I would leave the word “phenomenon” for much greater and more astonishing things and developments. There has always been stylistic diversity in Poetry, even in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems! So, I would rather term it: “Factual stylistic diversity” and not use either “a living” or “a phenomenon.””
• Poet Nadia Cella-Pop, from Brasov, ROMANIA, answered thus: “Starting with how we understand this word (STYLE), with its Greek provenance (STYLOS= penholder and writing, language5) the linguistic accept must be used only together with the personal manner, and the result of these means the artistic skillfulness of the creator, according with the personal credo. The literary style must respect some specific requirements about correctitude, clarity, purity, naturalness, harmony, in order to save the musicality and expressiveness of the work itself. Especially in poetry, where the “style jewels” are required-epithets, metaphors, antithesis, allegory etc. – there is no place for obscenity, doubts, nonsense, savagery, rude words. The poet’s literary deficiency, his/her disability to connect images, feelings, senses, in a coherent shape will make a weak artistic structure. As Buffon said once, the particular style actually means one of many shapes of the only essential style, the artistic one. The style is the pure expression of personality, and its diversity shapes the poet’s profile, it makes to set apart only if it respects some quality principles. Due to esthetic evolution of the language the poet uses, he/she could to subordinate, by talent, the intentions of affective message for the readers, obtaining the spiritual value of the literary work.”
• Also interesting is the comment of poet Tholana Ashok Chakravarthy, directly from Hyderabad, INDIA: “Poetry is perhaps the ONLY language which is expressed by various poets in various languages with varied and wide-ranging feelings. The language of English is no exception to this. The expressions or feelings, though differ from view to view, most of the expressions are understood in a right spirit by a reader who possesses an inclination towards literature and is familiar with literary terms. And, it in this context andjuncture, a writer / poet’s written thoughtful words not only look confusing but to a large extent seem misleading, distracting and confusing a reader. Hence the feeling of “not convinced” creeps into a reader’s mind and the stylistic diversity (the style of presentation of a poet / writer) looks disorderly and indistinctly, thereby diluting the element of “interest” in a reader. Similarly, a living phenomenon, or say, some notable writings of renowned persons relate to the writings of such individuals, which time and again inspire most of the readers for generations and generations. This particular individual trend, tempo or motivation ultimately shapes the particular writer / poet’s writing to remain a living phenomenon, that is, steadily remaining in the lime-light in the literary circles.”
• Poet and painter Stephen Morris from Birmingham, England, presently living in South of FRANCE said thus: “Well normally I don’t make comments about what people write about me or my work. It is the critic’s privilege I suppose to write what he or she feels. In the past there have been hurtful comments and at other times I have been flattered and pleased. I do believe though I have taken my writing and my art very seriously and have always attempted to be honest, sincere and have never shied away from pushing the boundaries and questioning academic traditions. Freedom to do this, in my opinion, is vitally important for the creative artist.” Points to ponder on: Diversity is creativity Thematic and stylistic diversity help set aside boredom (regarding both writer and reader), and eventually help the poet towards growth Individuality shapes stylistic diversity not the other way round Style has to do with the artistic skilfulness of the creator, according to his personal credo Style is the pure expression of personality, and its diversity shapes the poet’s profile In poetry style has to do with metaphors, allegory, antithesis, epithets, and all the rest. Freedom is vitally important for the creative artist.
Stylistic diversity and the individual: some examples from contemporary poetry worldwide:
_ Teresinka Pereira – short poems with a message difficult to forget
Thematically Teresinka Pereira (also member of the World Poets Society) treats issues such as love (Internet) and lack of love (Resistance, Denial), famine, injustice, lack of freedom, the death row, war (Kabul) and lack of peace, life as a fantasy because time flies (Birthday, November 1st, 2008), and children’s and woman’s rights (Children of Gaza, The Flower, The Borgol). As a person and poet Teresinka is alert to what’s happening worldwide (The Borgol, Wall in the Sea, Easter), especially in corners where there is political instability, suffering, injustice. She is also a regular globetrotter and a world ambassador who delivers her messages through poetry, gives a voice to the voiceless, to thoughts that for the majority remain silent, unspoken, let alone uttered aloud. As an example, in her poem Hiroshima, August 6, 2008, Teresinka exclaims, “But the World watches/and the World will not permit/another surprise attack anywhere!/Atomic bomb, never again!/Leader of the World, never again!”), while The vote in USA is a shout against “the mistake /of domination, imperialism, /and war… war… war!!” Hers is also a poetry of protest and condemnation of those who use power in the wrong way. A number of Teresinka’s poems are dedicated to various personalities, mostly linked to the world of peace and poetry (Nelson Mandela – Homage, Homage to Pete Seeger, Anna Politkovskata, Maria Montelibre,Goodbye, Poet Jozo Boskovski Jon (1933-2008)). Among Teresinka’s stylistic characteristics one needs to mention concision (War, Labor Day, May 1st, 2008, Sub-Poem, Overlook, Warning), dialogue between the “you” and “me”, the poem-letter, with a mixture of poetic/prose on a lexical level (Christmas and a poet on death row), a metaphoric language which is romantic, direct, clear and sincere, descriptive, but at the same time economy on words to the limit (Barbed wire and
roses), and use of no middle-terms. In Hiroshima, August 6, 2008 – refers to “an
irresponsible President”, and in The Christ of Rio de Janeiro Teresinka writes: “The Christ I see is a human art work./He is a sentinel of time,/eternal presence of a cement body/and a temporal symbol of love,/touching the sky with his open arms.” Teresinka’s poetry is full of exclamation marks, and hers is a verse where the “I” is more powerful than the sword: “I don’t care who5”; “I consider criminals/and killers5”, “I condemn the hands that are taking lives5” (Children of Gaza). Above all Teresinka Pereira writes poetry which wants to assert something, convey a message. Style and the individual, the pen and the person as a social being in the case of this poet from Brasil-USA go hand in hand.
_ Nadia Cella-Pop – the contemplative and philosophical self When I asked Romanian poet Nadia Cella-Pop about the themes she writes about in
her poetry, she answered that the themes of her poetry are provided and directed by her contemplative and philosophical structure within, of what she personally feels about events and moods. Her themes are enriched by other people’s experiences and by her vast cultural background. Thus, her books contain erotic poems, patriotic poems, poems with a mystic sense, where the intensity of feelings rules, and poems of existence. She keeps respecting the words’ aesthetics. Cell-Pop I also tracking a coherent base thinking about all types of readers, to let them taste the originality of her lyricism. Reading the poetry of Nadia-Cella Pop is quite an experience. Hers is a very powerful imagery and at the same time beautiful and lyrical. Pop’s poetry is also a game on words which when read forces the reader to exclaim, “How beautiful!” Hers is a language which goes directly to the heart. All is presented in an aura of mystery. The poet is well-tied to the present but her fantasy travels back and forth in time with great ease, as with much ease she creates very effective imagery. She also travels between two different temporal points in time which mark the limits of Pop’s fantasy: at one extreme, “a world of ruins” (the extreme point of corruption), and on the other extreme, a world where “rule the butterflies” (a world of innocence, untouched). Hers is a voice in a way tied to the present, but in other ways it surpasses the limits of time. Pop’s stature at times reaches dimensions that surpass “all the worlds we know”. In writing her poetry Nadia-Cella Pop makes use of different lexical registers such as nature, music, colours, emotions and the Bible (the crucifix is a recurring image). Reading the poetry of Nadia-Cella Pop is also a voyage from childhood to old age, with all that is experienced in between. Nadia-Cella Pop sings about love, peace and harmony through her word. In The Afternoon Tea she invites humankind to unite. Harmony is the key word, and all this in a simple but very fluent language. Harmony is also the thing common to both life and
music. Human love later on transforms itself into a pantheistic love where the “I” unites “with the world of worlds for eternity”. The poet invites the reader to reflect on huge (the macrocosm) and small (the microcosm) things, on the good and the evil, on the strong and the weak, on the conquerors and the vulnerable. Pop writes about the worlds both within (memory and emotions) and without (creation and nature), the told and the untold. Nature is seen as an open book from where the poet learns, reflects and expresses what people in general have no time to say. Little gestures or things, like having a cup of coffee in the morning or a flower, inspire Pop to write about universal experiences, thus those lived by man and woman not only in Romania, but everywhere. In this way Pop manages to change gestures into words and words into poetry. Like the mime, the poet does not speak but makes us see what “we want to forget about ourselves”. Pop also helps us move always nearer to the “deciphering of the total”. And this can only happen through “pure thought and a virgin soul”. And this makes us feel that her poetry is also an invitation to “remain forever children”, and to continue to feel the need for fables and adventure. Pop also writes about the tiredness of the body and the grandeur of the spirit. However, part of this grandeur belongs also to poetry.
_ Ada Aharoni – the poet as a “conscious caretaker” When I interviewed Ada Aharoni (member of the World Poets Society), one of her
statements was: “5I think that the world today is in great need of the consciousness, wisdom, and love of the poets. T.S. Eliot was right when he said that “Poets are the consciousness of the world!” And with all the violence and wars we have on our planet today, we badly need the consciousness and the love of the poets to repair our world and soothe ailing humankind. It is not that I prefer poems with a message, what I would like to see is that more poets become “conscious caretakers”, and that they would write beautiful and
fascinating poems that move us to be better people and more involved in the mending of our ailing blue planet – before it blows up in flames.”
The major wish of this poet who comes from Israel is expressed in her poem I want to kill war, when she writes, “I want to kill you war, forever,/not like a phoenix/that always comes back”. And how can this ever be done? Ada also offers this fantastic solution of how to do away with war:
All the peace marchers of the world/ Will take the heavy metal cases/ full of nuclear wastes/ and dump them over War’s head,/ the cases will leak, as usual,/ and War will dissolve back into his archaic bottle/ where he belongs -/ We shut the cork.
The same solution is referred to in the poem Not in your war anymore. As a poet and a Peace Culture Researcher in Ada’s case style in her poetry and individuality are strongly linked. Her verse and career both have a clear objective: the denunciation of war and the will to make it stop ones and for all. Hers is a poetry linked to the Middle East (a land where olives, vines, figs and oranges grow) and the war she protests against is twofold: that between Israel and Palestine, and in a global context, the nuclear threat.
Metaphor is a powerful mechanism used in Ada’s poetry, but the most powerful is that taken from Peace is a woman and a mother: “Peace is indeed a pregnant woman,/Peace is a mother.” And the way to peace seems to be entrusted to mothers, sisters, daughters (A bridge of peace):
My Arab sister/,Let us build a sturdy bridge/ From your olive world to mine,/ From my orange world to yours,/ Above the boiling pain/ Of acid rain prejudice -/ And hold human hands high/ Full of free stars/ Of twinkling peace./
Together with metaphor, the chromatic dimension is very strong in Ada’s poetry: “we cannot paint war green”, “crimson blood”, “russet bronze fiery metal cartridges”, “golden laser Napalm”, “dark cage”, “peaceful green woods”, “white horse from golden Jerusalem”, “bright blue sky”, “golden flower faded”, “our blue planet”, “a silvered horizon”, “green and brown seaweed”, “blue bacteria”, “green, curious eyes”, and “green earth”. In spite of death, war and the warmongers, the graves, the bodies and the blood which Ada’s protests against, essentially her poetry is positive, a poetry of hope in peace, union and optimism.
_ Tholana Ashok Chakravarthy – simple living and high thinking
I am sure that the following statement by Tholana Ashok Chakravarthy (member of the World Poets Society) will help to understand better his poetry: “The concept of uniting art with poetry will unite all classes of people, irrespective of age, caste, creed, race and religion. Yes, I do prefer poetry with artistic reflections of the theme, which I feel will definitely pave way to enlighten the children and youth in particular. Peace-poems and harmonious-art if jointly presented together, the face of humanity will be adorned with the glow of Universal Peace.” Regarding the regularity of form in his poetry Tholana Ashok answers: “Yes, it is my choicest of choices to attract and immerse the reader/s and to take the reader/s deep into the heart-touching meaningful depths. Hence, with exception to some, I prefer the form of rhyme for most of my poems, for I am sure, this pleases both the mind and heart of a reader.” As a person he describes himself as “a person of – SIMPLE LIVING AND HIGH THINKING.” And this is what happens in his poetry too: a mixture of simple language with profound thoughts about simple things (childhood, harmony, nature) and things that reflect humanity’s suffering (starvation, war, physical abuse and brutality on children, death, street beggars, orphans). On the one hand, there is the poet-child pleading for justice, mercy and equality, on the other hand there is the self-boasting, pseudo-civilized, hi-tech society of today. Simplicity is found also in the use of imagery: “clouds of war”, “tentacles of hatred”, “mother earth mourns”, “clouds of darkness”, “meadows of future”, “Lives entangled in the webs of starvation and death”, “eagle-eyed street lights”, “pigeons of peace”, “seeds of peace”, “ocean of miseries”, “seeds of mistrust”, “Flowers of peace”, and “the petals of faith”. All have to do with the world of nature, but at the same time many treat a negative aspect of today’s society in which man lives or represent something which has still to come (such as peace). In one of his untitled poems Tholana Ashok writes thus:
Let our inner-self speak through the nib of our pen/ Let our poetry create a culture of peace-filled vision/ We possess ability to achieve, by words of expression/ Yes, let us stand firm at this hour, with determination/ Then only can we provide peace, succor to everyone./ In a way Tholana Ashok speaks for other peace poets like Teresinka Pereira and Ada Aharoni, but even in the name of all poets who in their hearts wish for a better world.
_ Stephen Morris – life presented at its most simple and straightforward
Answering to some of my questions Stephen Morris (member of the World Poets Society) reacts thus: “I do try to be simple without been simplistic5 I find beauty everywhere, both in the physical and the abstract5 I found even in the ugliness of the twin towers attack in New York there was something hypnotically beautiful. The images of the planes as they flew into the building. The mesmerizing effect of people jumping to their death, to be followed by the collapse of the buildings. Finally, the twisted metal that remained created by the collapsed girders, could have been interpreted as a staggering piece of sculpture. What I feel is that beauty can be everywhere but I hastily add I never saw any beauty in Auschwitz not for a single moment5 Artists and poets have imaginations, the rulers know this for they could be dangerous as they make people think. Dictators don’t want people who think. The true artist, in my opinion, not only should reflect the society he is in, but should be critical of it and attempt to change it, especially if that society is corrupt and restricts freedom. The pen and the paint brush are mightier than the sword5” As already said earlier, Stephen Morris is a poet and painter/artist. He has traveled worldwide, exhibited and held poetry readings in many countries. One of his favourite styles in his verse is visual poetry. He also writes haiku and free verse at times, and regular poetry with regular rhyme (the traditional abcb or aabbcc rhyme models) and rhythm at others such as in On writing a poem:
A poem it should have rhythm/ A verse it can have rhyme/ It doesn’t always happen/
And never all the time;/ or as in The Kingfisher catcher: The Kingfisher catche/r All dirty and clean He joined the party To worship the Queen.
The reader of Morris’ poetry soon notices that emphasis is put on the auditory dimension of the word (so not only poetry as seen on the page but also poetry as sound), and this not only through mechanisms such as rhyme, but also through alliterations, onomatopoeia, and assonances. The following instances prove my point:
We waited, excited/ we could and would/wait no moreD/ Swept across our goose pimpled backsD red-rimmed eyesD (from Christmas Island memory); blistered twistedD blood black earthDtime trappedDpit of death (from Patient 47415); the insistence on the “w” sound through words such as “Will we”, “when”, “Wear your overwear”, “always”, “wishes”, “bow”, “way”, “wrong” and “where” (inDoppleganger love poem); Pitter patte/r Dilly-dally,/ Hotch-potch/
Ally pally (from Thingy-Majigs: A sound poem).
About simplicity and being straightforward especially when writing about life’s mysteries Stephen Morris through his verse states that we are “Living in the warehouse of extinction” (Limbus of the Moon); that “Worlds turn,/The Universe expands./We are./We exist,/Women conceive,/Tails wag,/cats purr./We create,/we procreate,/Everything is.” (Tails wag); that “Grief does not leave,/It lurks, it hurts./It has a perpetuity.” (from It lurks it hurts); that “When worlds collide./We know so little/Understand less./Between the shadow/And the object/Falls reality.” (from When worlds collide); and that “nature made us,/Nature will take us away.” (in Eternity listens). His style in poetry as in his paintings at times may be called naïf, such as in Dangerous days. Back to style and the individual. Stephen Morris as an individual has lived different and contrasting moments: love and hate, company and solitude, health and sickness, moments of madness and moments of reflection, confinement and freedom, hurt and happiness, stability and movement, moments of darkness and others of light. All these moments in time are reflected in his poetry and paintings, simple but at the same time most diversified through forms, sounds and colours.
_ Agnes Lam – the voice of awareness, compassion, emotion and sensitivity, and poetry as a healing agent I met Chinese poet, Agnes Lam, in South Italy last November 2008, during the NOSSIDE International Poetry Competition prize-giving ceremony. As a person she is exquisite, humble, a listener more than a speaker, and when she speaks she does it in a low but clear voice, never abandoning her beautiful Asian smile. The audience present at the NOSSIDE ceremony was enchanted when they heard Agnes Lam read her poem Vanilla in the stars in English. People reading Lam’s poetry from her two anthologies, Woman to Woman (1997) and Water Wood Pure Splendour (2001), notice the same characteristics of Lam as a person: sensitivity, a strong sense of awe, emotion, compassion, and also awareness of our present, past and future, awareness of the fragility of us human beings, but at the same time awareness that we as inhabitants of the Earth are no island. Agnes Lam herself admits that poetry is like breathing, and that “Through writing poetry, I reorder my inner dissonance.” However, this is not all. Lam continues, “If I can articulate the fury and the calm, perhaps my words may offer some comfort in resonance to another who does not”. (see “Introduction” in Woman to Woman, p. 9) Poets are sensitive, and even Lam with her special style, writes about hunger, war, hurt love, poverty, memory, childhood, life and death, but also history, freedom, and politics in its wider sense (The richer the people, After the handover, Yanan, A tragic mistake, The rape of a nation). From the stylistic point of view Lam is a master of free verse and
image manipulation. Her language is sensual (“I thrive/on the spectrum/of colours smells noises”, “I do not presume to touch/ the sand”, “I can hear the echo of footsteps”, “the sun on my skin”, “the smell of tang ho”, “These seconds,/let them graze/dry against my lips”), natural (“blade of grass”, “every grain of rice”, “a chorus in the trees/as on the leaves/a breeze sighs”, “everywhere I walk in May/roses are blooming”, “The world/a garden of snails/gleaming in the sun/moving.”), and metropolitan (“silicon chips”, “As tour buses signal left and right,/shoppers swelter in the taxi queu”, “Every music shop/brought out her CDs”, “the end of a subway line”) at different moments. Lam uses direct discourse but also instances of prose-poetry (see I cannot give it back to you, and Writing in the middle of the road) in her verse and this continues to prove the link between her writing and everyday life. Agnes Lam as a poet and individual is also a very careful observer of colour: “the sun/an intense red ball”; “upon layers/of gold and blue”; “charcoal black”; “two tender streaks of white”; “the coral set to match the pink”; “more than white roses”; “see the red of fire”; “I see a yellow sandal”; “Her hair was completely grey”; “Blood red and crimson,/fiery orange, lipstick pink,/violet, blush and white.”; “On a battlefield, yellow flowers are/more fragrant than ever.” This is not all; on the contrary Agnes Lam’s poetry is vast from both the stylistic and the thematic perspectives. Reading her poetry one soon becomes aware that he or she has started a long voyage of discovery, not knowing exactly when and where the finish line is. Agnes Lam is a person who looks both horizontally and vertically for inspiration, and this renders it very difficult to fathom her poetry.
It is a cliché (of which one cannot do without) to admit that one cannot separate the poet as a human being (an individual) from the poet as an artist (style). The poet is what he writes and poetry is the sum total of what the poet as a human being does, thinks, experiences, the people s/he meets, the news s/he follows, his/her travels, the spaces and the time in which s/he inhabits and lives. Every human being (however different the country, the environment s/he comes from) has his/her rhythms, time-table, habits,
virtues and vices. Every poet has his/her personal style of writing. However, there still remain common elements, in spite of all the differences. All human beings have emotions, their good and bad moments, their strengths and weaknesses; all poets are sensitive to suffering and injustice; all poetry is there to ameliorate humankind (in a way or other) and if this is not the case, then it is not poetry at all.