Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home


Defining poetry

Defining poetry is impossible. In the history of literature, many critics, philosophers and poets have offered their own take on what poetry is. But the truth is, we've been writing poetry for centuries; it has evolved through many movements; essays and journals have been written about them; the various formats have gone in and out of fashion, and finally, we have so many different kinds of poetry that a single definition cannot take care of all these different styles.

Here are some ways in which we can understand and identify poetry:

Reading: The easiest way to identifying and understanding poetry is simply by reading a lot of poetry. You should read poetry from different eras, in different styles and forms, and even ones translated from foreign languages. Most important is however to read contemporary poetry, because it is necessary to have a general footing on what is going on in the world of poetry in your own time. Reading helps one identify what works in poetry and what doesn't. Reading also makes the creative part of our minds active and we begin to learn unconsciously. If you read enough you won't need other's people's definitions of what poetry is or isn't, you will know yourself and make your own definition based on what poetry means to you.

Knowing what poetry is: A single poem can hardly makes use of all these devices, but most poems will use at least some of these- meter, rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, assonance, consonance, line breaks or enjambments, repetition, imagery, figures of speech (metaphor, simile, personification, etc), and many more.

Meter, rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, assonance and consonance help to enhance the sound of a poem. Line breaks (also known as "enjambments") are used for sound enhancement, to mark major pauses in a poem, and often also for meaning. Imagery and figures of speech develop the meaning of the poem by showing, describing and/or evoking our senses. For the most rudimentary understanding of poetry:

-Poetry sounds good.
-Poetry often makes use of complex and aesthetic ways of writing about a particular subject.

Knowing what poetry is not: Poetry is not prose with line breaks or enjambments. This means that you cannot simply take a sentence, break it into different lines, and call it poetry.

Here are a few more misconceptions about poetry:
-Poetry has to rhyme. This is untrue. But if you like rhyming poetry, you should go ahead and write.
-Anyone can rhyme. Rhyming dictionaries make it seem as though all you need is pairs of words that rhyme and you're set. Again, untrue. Rhyming poetry makes use of meter to achieve those rhythmic patterns we love in famous rhyming poems. This means that the poet considers the length of each line, the number of syllables that each word has, not just the end rhyme. It is worth learning how to use meter perfectly before you start rhyming.

-Poetry must come from the heart. Poetry comes from various different human experiences and it does not only have to be about emotions. Poetry can be funny, satiric, philosophical, historical, darkly comic, erotic, serious, and hundreds of other things.

Poetry is good as long as it has collected a fine layer of dust. No, no, no, and No. There is nothing to back the fact that only really old poetry from the previous centuries are good and worth reading. There will always be people with an elitist mind frame like that, and there will always be at least one like me urging you to read modern poetry. The evolution of poetry is beautiful, so read a contemporary poem today!

All the aspiring poets out there, go ahead and get busy. Further queries regarding poetry can be addressed to magick-k@hotmail.com.

Don't miss out on the next part, where we'll discuss about categorizing the various kinds of poetry, from formats and styles used by the father of English poetry, Chaucer to today's Carol Ann Duffy. We will also break down what it means for a poem to be 'experimental' and the various ways to go about it. Till then, read some, write some.

By Ahsan Sajid

Write, left and center

It wouldn't be far from the truth if someone said that the art of writing is a complex trade, of strange complicated mechanisms, fulcrums and weights, distances and depth, with laws, rules and regulations, all of which must be broken at one place or the other for a piece of writing to be something remotely good and pleasantly readable. And yet, it doesn't really take a genius to be a good writer. Sometimes, all you need is instinct and a good imagination.

I look back to my school days, when I used to absolutely loathe my English classes, and dreaded the days when I would be asked to submit in an essay of my making. Hell. I dreaded all the classes. But, that's another story. Writing for the sake of a grade hardly ever produces a good read. Grades are not a good motivation, anyway.

Writing is like any other thing. Take the way that you would start to solve a mathematic problem, for example. You would start it with the intent of coming to a correct conclusive end. You would want to end up with a figure that is exact, accurate and of course, correct. After which you would feel a sense of accomplishment at having solved it with such refined technicality and accuracy.

You would start a physics experiment the same way, with one sole intent or the other as your motivation, as your drive. You may want to find out the measurement of something, or perhaps the marginal accuracy of some law, or maybe the rotary power of a V16 engine. You would want to end up with a definite answer, or as close to one as you could get.

Take cooking, as yet another example. Unless, you wanted to kill someone with very bad cooking, you would measure your salt and spices by the gram; try to follow each step to an infinitesimal specification, making sure that everything is just right- nothing more, nothing less. You would be careful not to mix up sugar with salt, or vice versa lest you end up eating a not-so-tasty-but-bitter cake.

Just like those above examples, you have to be careful about how you write, and what you right. Use the right words at the right places, and the wrong words only at the wrong places. Make sure to place commas and periods where necessary. Caps and exclamations are as important as salt and sugar. Your words are the ingredients, the paint. Your page is the pot, the canvas. Follow the recipe, until you get it down to a fine tune, a rhythm which you know by heart. Then, break all the rules; make some of your own. Break those down, too- refine them until they're like fine grain, unnoticeable and untraceable. Pick them up on your hand and throw them to the sea, let the wind take them and forget everything you learnt. In a world where anything is possible, where you could do anything you want, be anything you want, what need is there for rules? Rules only inhibit and restrict. You have the ultimate freedom. Take it. Use it.

You follow no rule, you see no path to follow for there's no need of any. Write, because you need to write. Write, because you want someone to read it and feel the same way you do. Write, because writing is the best way to have fun. Write, because a story wants to be told. A story makes its own rules and follows its own path. It will twist into a thorny rosebush, turn into a thunderstorm, and make sure that it ends up where it needs to, like a river always ends up on a sea.

A story is as alive as you and me. And it wants to be told. Tell it like it really is. If a beloved hero has to die. So be it. If a villain has to be live. So be it. If the whole world has to turn inside out and there has to be a rain of fire, that the story may advance… So. Be. It.

If that is the story, then that is the story. Have no reservations, make no compromise, and take no false-roads. Stories make us human. Like in Terry Pratchett's novel Hogfather, Death says to Suzan with grim conviction:

Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape. You have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

"So we can believe the big ones?"
Yes. Justice. Mercy. Duty. That sort of thing.
Not entirely an objective point of view, but there is a desert of truth to it.

By Beb-E

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela:

Father of Africa

Some people know him as a South African freedom fighter; some know him as leader of the antiapartheid movement; some know him as the first black President of South Africa (1994-1999); but most know him as the Father of South Africa: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Born in the year 1918(Utata, South Africa), Mandela was South African activitist, winner of 1993 Noble Prize, and the first black President. Mandela's bravery, wise leadership and dedication towards the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, have inspired countless people throughout the world and won him the Noble Prize. He spent more than 27 years in jail as a political prisoner. The 1994 victory of the African National Congress, in the first multiracial election, ended apartheid in South Africa and Mandela became her President.

The first black President of Africa, Nelson Mandela became a worldwide symbol of resistance to the injustice of his country's apartheid system. Imprisoned for more than 27 years, and before that banned from all public activity and hounded by police for nearly a decade, Mandela lead a struggle for freedom that mirrored that of his back compatriots. After his 1990 release from the Victor Verster prison, his work to end apartheid won him the 1993 PEACE PRIZE (which he shared with South African president F.W. de Klerk) then presidency itself a year later.

Along with his adult life he had a lot of ups and downs in his young age as well. At the age of seven he was the first person from his family to attend school. As his father (Henry Mandela) died two years later he acquired the Christian name 'Nelson' at school and was sent to live with Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the regent, or the supreme leader, of the Thembu people. From the regent, Mandela said, he learned “a leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are directed from behind.” Only as a student at the University of Fort Hare did Mandela Begin to question the injustice he and all the black South Africans faced. Fort Hare was considered an oasis of the black scholarship; it was also a training ground for the future leaders (lawyer and antiapartheid activist Oliver Tambo was Mandela's classmate, and Freedom Charter Originator Z.K. Mathews thought there). But a dispute with the administration over the students' rights caused Mandela leave Fort Hare in his second year. At the same time, he broke with the regent rather than accept an arraigned marriage.

Like this he had to go through countless hardships in the life. Today, when people look at Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, especially me, they look at someone who had gone through so much to be sad about but still has that same spark in his eyes giving everyone a ray of hope. Hope about how someone can do something really big even through a lot of hard ships. Now when someone asks me, why I would keep Nelson Mandela as one of my favorite personalities? My answer would be simple. Think about Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Condoleezza Rice, Didier Drogba, Alex Haley or even JayZ. You would never know about these very talented but black people if it wasn't for Nelson Mandela. He not only fought for himself but for all the black people around the world. If 'you' really want to thank someone than go and thank Nelson Mandela because if it was not for him than all the black people would still be slaved by other 'white' people; to a person who not only deserves to be called the 'Father of Africa' but is actually the 'Father of all the Blacks' in the world.

By Raisa Ashraf



home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2008 The Daily Star