EDITORIAL – World Poetry Day: Time to appreciate language and life

Offering up words for public consumption takes a certain amount of – well, not courage – but “pluck.”

Even we newspaper “ink-stained wretches” (as we were once known), are painfully aware that each word is a choice and thus an opportunity to be judged – by you, our audience.

That partly explains why you often see in older writers plaintive addresses such as “Dearest Reader,” or in Greek epics, introductory invocations to the Muse to give the poet the strength, skill and inspiration needed to accomplish his formidable task.

For example, Homer’s “Odyssey”: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy.”

As you skim the pages of this newspaper, keep in mind that what you hold in your hands is not simply ink on paper, but thoughts inscribed on the eggshells of egos.

We approach today’s editorial with more self-consciousness than usual. The reason is our esteem for one particular potential reader, the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, Mervyn Morris, who is visiting the Cayman Islands in connection with today’s celebration of World Poetry Day.

For those who are not fortunate enough to experience Professor Morris’s workshops or readings today, we strongly suggest taking some time to reflect upon a favorite poem or discover a new one.

We will share some verses that might serve as departure points for rewarding literary journeys, starting with an excerpt from Professor Morris’s “Little Boy Crying” about the relationship between a 3-year-old boy and his father figure: “You cannot understand, not yet,/the hurt your easy tears can scald him with,/nor guess the wavering hidden behind that mask./This fierce man longs to lift you, curb your sadness/with piggy-back or bull-fight, anything,/but dare not ruin the lessons you should learn.”

Perhaps today is an apt opportunity to become acquainted with the work of Derek Walcott, a St. Lucian poet awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992 (for “Omeros,” his adaptation and reimagination of a Homeric epic). Mr. Walcott died Friday at the age of 87.

In the poem “Islands,” he wrote: “I seek,/As climate seeks its style, to write/Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,/Cold as the curled wave, ordinary/As a tumbler of island water.”

In American letters, there’s also Emily Dickinson, the subject of a new movie, “A Quiet Passion,” starring Cynthia Nixon, who visited Cayman in October to speak at the Breast Cancer Foundation gala. We’re not sure how the notoriously reclusive Ms. Dickinson would have felt about her enduring fame, but this is what she wrote in “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”: “How dreary – to be – Somebody!/How public – like a Frog –/To tell one’s name – the livelong June –/To an admiring Bog!”

And of course, the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, who treated immortality as a regular theme in his sonnets. For example, in Sonnet 60: “Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth/And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,/Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,/And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:/And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand,/Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.”

The choices are “literally” endless. And none of them is incorrect. For readers who don’t care for poetry, or who think they don’t, here are some thoughts from eminent critic Harold Bloom. In order to start becoming a dispassionate critic, he said, “you must fall in love with poems.”

“[I]n the end you choose between books, or you choose between poems, the way you choose between people. You can’t become friends with every acquaintance you make, and I would not think that it is any different with what you read,” he said.

 

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