World Poetry For Total Peace, Pedagogy For The New Life
Por: Paul Liam
Poetry is inherent in nature, it is found among living and non-living things alike. It resides in the silence of trees, and the numbness of stones, it is found in the water that surrounds the earth, and it dwells in the sky and in animals. But most importantly, poetry is innate to human beings. We encounter the profound presence of poetry in the cry and giggles of a newborn child whose birth delights its parents. Equally, the environment offers us deep insights into the interrelatedness between poetry and nature, because of its subliminal power to evoke in us an uncommon sense of aesthetics, for it is through poetry that our awareness and appreciation of beauty gains agency. Thus, we encounter beauty naturally as we become aware of ourselves and our environment. We are enchanted by butterflies and flowers, we are attracted to birds and the language that they speak even when we don’t understand the meaning of the sounds they emit. Such is the power of our innate ability to be able to admire things we don’t readily understand because we are enamored by the sheer magnificence of their existence. Poetry is life because it is through its mysterious powers and influences that we become conscious of ourselves as our interactions are enabled by words.
The foregoing premise seeks to appropriate the mystery of poetry and its presence in our lives even in our most unconscious state. It is an erroneous supposition therefore to assume that poetry is something that we encountered or discovered in adulthood when it has been with us right from the point of our conception to the point of our birth and even death. We, therefore, cannot extricate the impact of poetry from our lives as it foregrounds the ontology of our epistemological inquiries irrespective of our social or cultural origins. Poetry defines our knowledge of truth and falsehood as it offers us clarity in times of darkness and the chaos that threatens our collective humanity. It is the common language and heritage bequeathed to humanity by nature. Although, as humans, we may speak different languages and profess differing ideologies, poetry is the common universal language that unites us through our shared sense of beauty. In Africa, for example, the magnificence of poetry is celebrated in its oral opulence both as cult language and ceremonial chants or songs. It is the vehicle for the appropriation of our spiritual essence as a people, regardless of our rich cultural diversity.
Consequently, the power of poetry to condition the mind towards imbibing the ideals of truth and justice is critical to the elevation of humanity from its ever-chaotic self into a new reality of hope and peace for the world. But how can poetry influence peace in the world when it has been said for centuries that poetry cannot change society? As herculean and elusive as the task of poetry causing world peace might seem, it is not impossible for poetry to achieve world peace with the right attitude, acceptance, and deployment. More than guns, it is the human mind and conviction that execute wars, for guns in their various forms and sizes are incapable of causing war unless enabled and applied by humans. Thus, it is the mind that is capable of conceiving and executing wars that must be arrested with poetry for poetry bears no grudge against anyone. Therefore, to avert conflict and wars, we must condition the mind through the subliminal power of poetry to redirect it to altruistic ideals that accentuate the dignity of human and animal life, and guarantee the protection of the earth as our collective heritage. For, if we are able to feel and inculcate the beauty that poetry affords us through words and language, we will become more conscious of the plight of one another thereby eschewing hate and viciousness from our consciousness.
It suffices to posit that the role of poetry in ensuring peace is mediatory. Poetry does not mediate wars but the conscience of those who are capable of enabling wars. In other words, a mind enamored by the power of poetry becomes rational and aversive to conflict and injustice which are critical elements in war. How can poetry achieve this noble objective? In order for poetry to exert its influence on the human mind it has to be empowered through concrete means such as through the institutionalization of poetry by means of learning; through sound educational programs designed to condition the mind to be able to appreciate the values of peace, respect for difference and inclusivity. By increasing access to poetry and encouraging its appreciation in schools, impressionable minds will not only learn of the beauty of words or language, but of selflessness and love as the truest elevation of the soul.
Celebrating poetry as a critical factor in the unification of our human experiences such as exemplified by the World Poetry Movement through the Medellin International Poetry Festival accentuates the need for people of different continents, races, cultures, and beliefs to have faith in the indivisibility of humanity. And because, dialogue is the greatest tool for attaining world justice, peace, and development, it is safe to say that facilitating dialogue and upholding the sanctity of words is the fulcrum of the functionality of poetry. From my personal experience and observation, I have come to learn that poets and indeed writers, in general, are some of the most authentic, empathic, and kind human beings on earth. Poets and writers have always been known to speak truth to power as mouthpieces of the proletariats, a mind conditioned to good and kindness is a mind incapable of harming peace. Edward Said in his seminal work, Representations of the Intellectual (1993), problematizes the sacred responsibility of the intellectual to which the poet belongs. Said, pontificates that the intellectual’s responsibility is to society and it is rooted in upholding the sanctity of truth even in the most dynamic interplay of state power.
Nigerian poets have over the years demonstrated uncommon gut and sense of duty to their societies by not only speaking truth to power but also participating in mass protests and demonstrations against dictatorship and abuse of human rights by the state. Poets like Ogaga Ifowodo, Dagga Tolar, BM Dzukogi, Bash Amuenih, Dike Chukwumerije, Ba Sabouke, Hafsat Abdullahi, and several others have at different times used their poetry to speak against social injustice, bad governance, environmental degradation, and corruption. Poetry has always been instrumental in the quest for social justice, freedom of expression, and peace. But, it is even more important to state that poetry and poets must continue to push for dialogue that will result in the conscientization of the masses to demand social justice and the protection of civic spaces, especially in developing countries. But most importantly, since the book is capable of altering the mind and indeed the life of a person, in the same vein poetry is capable of elevating a person from a lower level of insight to a higher level of self-awareness. That is why the inculcation of the teaching and learning of poetry in the school curriculum in Africa is of utmost importance, the offspring of a generation that thinks will always prosper and dominate the offspring of the generation that does not think.
While poetry may have gained agency in developed countries, in Africa, however, the appreciation of poetry is still low despite the many gains that the continent has recorded in literary productivity. A lot still needs to be done in order to make poetry an integral part of the African reality. African nations must work in strengthening and deepening the teaching and appreciation of poetry in schools because of its long-term impact in shaping the cognition of its citizens, who will in turn provide the base for critical thinking and innovation that will facilitate the continent’s truest development and secure the future for the unborn generation. Because growth and development in Africa can only be attained if the majority of Africans are intellectually empowered to be able to think and provide local solutions to their problems. This can be achieved via the establishment of strong institutions that celebrate and promote critical thinking, especially among young people. It is my hope that the first world congress of the World Poetry Movement will facilitate conversations that will lend themselves to these issues.
Paul Terkhimbi Liam is a Nigerian poet, author, critic, and editor. He is the Coeditor of Ebedi Review and Contributing Art Editor for Daily Review Newspaper. He is the Coordinator of the World Poetry Movement in Nigeria and is also the Head of Operations of Isu Media Limited, Abuja. He is a development communication specialist.