poetry as patriarch

I wasn’t given the opportunity to fall in love with poetry. I didn’t chance upon it, discover words that stirred my emotions in new ways. I didn’t stumble upon poems, take them into my life as lovers, didn’t get to experience the romance of poetry. It wasn’t that I had any aversion to poetry, I just didn’t get to experience it as new. This was a result of the ubiquity of poetry in my childhood and throughout my life.

As far back as I remember, poetry was a patriarch, embodied in the memory of my grandfather, a man I had never met.

My grandfather was a poet, and he passed away when my mother was a young girl. In my mother’s family, the figure of my grandfather was mythic, a larger-than-life personality, whose identity as a poet overshadowed his legacy as a parent. His blood infused my own in the same way that poetry infused my life: a presence I took for granted.

My grandfather was nationally-recognised and his poetry was part of the educational curriculum. Each year, in poetry recital class, at least one of his poems would be included in the collection the young schoolchildren were expected to memorise. The first year this happened, the teacher eagerly announced that the esteemed poet’s granddaughter was one of his students, and he anticipated my familiarity and understanding of my grandfather’s work. I disappointed, struggling enough with the language as it was, having recently moved back to Khartoum from London. That incident triggered my journey to “forget” English, and focus on developing my mother tongue (the result? Although I learned to speak English first, I succeeded in reinstating my mother tongue’s position in my own language hierarchy).

I only have one of my grandfather’s books, published posthumously through the efforts of one of his colleagues and my grandmother. In the introduction to this final collection, my grandmother writes that her husband was questioning his identity as a poet. Those words hit home at a time when I was exploring my own claims to “poet”.

I have been writing poetry for years and years. Silly rhymes when I was young, angst-ridden teenage verse, contemplations on the meaning of life, expressions and reconciliations with depression. Instinctive expression. I rejected, and still do, the title of poet, believing that while we all have poetry inside us – literally and metaphorically – I can’t add that tag until I (l)earn it.

This journey is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother and the myth of my grandfather. And through them, to my mother.

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I’m starting to write parts of my history, figuring out my own life’s path. It’s this feeling of hitting a peak but not peaking that is necessitating visiting and visioning the past. My explorations have a tendency to become public.

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