Jah people, poetry is dying and history will not judge the ‘now’ generation kindly.
The free-fall of Malawian poetry was clear when acclaimed Jack Mapanje met the new blood at Blantyre’s Land of Poetry Festival last weekend.
Nearly all performers were armed with lengthy scripts, reading every word like an oath. They stammered and stumbled. Some didn’t seem to understand the mood of their compositions. Flatly, they delved into petty themes less appealing than what made the Mapanjes global icons.
Additionally, the short stories the so-called poets mistake for poetry nowadays comprise trite jokes and quirky tell-tales stolen from tavern talks and other social networking sites.
Completing the grim picture were clueless vernacular personalities imitating the tone fashioned by Ndidzakutengela Kunyanja Ligineti maker Benedicto Okomaatani Malunga and his Thambo Lagwa counterpart Gospel Kazako nearly 20 years back.
What happened to creativity?
Of course, not all poets are performing artists. Even globally acclaimed Mapanje needed a book to deliver Skipping without Ropes which he authored during his detention without trial at Mikuyu Prison in the 1980s. However, the flexibility sacrificed to the book was aptly recouped by the defiant tone invested in every word since the poem is no vow of allegiance to his jailers.
Save for the likes of Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa, Linda Gabriel and Chigo Gondwe-Chokani, the modern Malawian poets seem to make no effort to unleash their potential by way of performance. A bulk of their poems are too monotonous to be memorised and delivered straight from the head as some of us used to do with the musical Cats Sleep Anywhere at Ukwe Primary School in the 1980s.
The lack of quality in poetry that fills our newspapers, festivals and radio programmes is deadening. It appears many want to be poets, but few really understand what poetry entails.
And no lamentation echoes this crisis better than veteran Alfred Msadala’s Why I Still Write in which he declares today’s prosy poem corrupt and the poets a disgrace.
From Msadala’s musings, the old poets will not retire until their potential successors get the basics right and stop recycling drunken jokes.
Surely, younger poets can be more creative and methodic.