To experiment in poetry seems
to be an anathema in this
country that has a prolonged love affair with Formalism. We keep on reading poems that tiptoe on the same vein—whether in form or substance or both—afraid to let go of the ropes and the visible horizon. We sometimes sense the same tone ringing in the voices of different writers—no wonder their relationship is called incestuous. And no wonder too that only a handful of writers we can say as being “original”, with due respect to how problematic the term is.

This faithfulness to the rules is the reason why our minds back out once we read a poem that interrogates and destroys the limits of conventional poetry. Our perspective has been interspersed with grids—too well-constructed—collapsing a poem into the easy category of good and bad which we well know is not a right thing. Poetry married to another artform intrigues us but does not hold us in our chairs because we are not trained to look at poetry away from the perimeter of the page.

The only way to expand the reader’s perspective is for writers to expand poetry’s territory. There is no other way. Poets should be brave, even if occasionally, shaking and breaking the gates of language, theme, or form. Creativity—a blast of it—will surely attend every experimental undertaking since the mind is asked to look intensely at all the unexplored areas of imagination. If a poem needs movement or color to have its energy run across the universe of its expression, then the poet should not hesitate to tap a dancer or a visual artist to help him out in this.

We have to encourage experimentation, not for the sake of trends (it’s post-modernism now, or in some literary centers, post-post-modernism), but for the sake of improving the present poetry that we have right now.

Through experimentation, poets have an entire floor where they can dance their metaphors and verses with utter risk and freedom. If sustained, poetry in this country will flourish because at last, the writer is freed from any agenda other than to create and perform his art.

To be truly committed in broadening our taste as readers, we should give every work “the benefit of the doubt”—especially those that seem to transgress the norms. We’ll never know what we have lost once we let go of a poem just because it looks and feels new, demanding, and difficult.

We have to transcend our paltry tools we use to dissect a poem or a story and do away with our effortless and boastful way of declaring whether it’s good or bad. We have to move towards a creative openness where every poem is privileged to be given the chance to speak its stake on the world.

Unfortunately, we need to educate our critics on this. There is not much of the good ones—critics who do not only have a sense of the tradition of literature but its possibility. We are yet to see critics whose fierce seeing into the text, instead of fueling long arguments and exasperations from writers, sets the dynamics for the wholesome interaction of the written word and the reader and provides the groundwork for discussions literary or otherwise.

We need to trust our poets each time they put a foot on the dangerous line of language and meaning. After all, they are, in the process, mustering courage to move away from the conventional, the mainstream which is not an easy thing to do. We should be alarmed if they never did, which means they are not working hard enough at their craft to issue forth new possibilities.

We need to trust ourselves too, each time we take a plunge into a poem we don’t agree with or normally encounter. Nothing equals to the awe that comes from encountering the mysterious. If the poem fails to move and change us—despite our openness to receive it—then we can just pick up our slippers, walk towards another poem, and begin the pursuit anew.

Montage Vol. 6 • August 2002


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