In defence of poesy 2011: Adebe D.A.

April 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

In 1999, the League of Canadian Poets launched the first National Poetry Month, which “brings together schools, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and poets across the country to celebrate poetry and its vital place in Canada’s culture.” This initiative is an admirable attempt to draw attention to a literary form that predates most others still extant, and yet does not command anything like a broad readership. There are many possible reasons for poetry’s marginal place in today’s reading culture: it is considered too difficult, too elitist, too boring. No doubt poetry demands much of its readers, as do short stories, which employ a similar concentration of language and imagination. (The poet Zachariah Wells has referred to the short story as “a poem with an unhealthy affinity for the right-hand margin.”) However, poetry need not appear daunting or impenetrable; much of the best verse being produced today is accessible and engaging to readers who are willing to give it a shot. (There is also a large amount of experimental and avant-garde poetry being produced these days for readers who are looking for something more iconoclastic or provocative.)

Although poetry needs no justification – it is its own justification – historically, critics and others have felt the need to defend or explain the form to a recalcitrant reading public. Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesy, published posthumously in 1595, is arguably the most famous attempt to explicate poetry’s merits and pleasures; in any event, it is a classic of Renaissance literature.

To mark National Poetry Month, TSR thought it might be interesting to investigate a kind of 21st century defence of poesy. Over the next few weeks, the site will look at poets and poems that illustrate both the depth and broadness of the poetic firmament. In so doing, I thought it would be nice to hear from poets themselves: what motivates them to continue crafting verse in a literary environment that seems indifferent at best and openly hostile at worst? To this end, TSR asked a group of poets to provide an answer to one (deceptively) simple question: Why should people read poetry? (Or, to turn the question on its head: Why do you write poetry?) Responses could be in prose, verse, or any other form the poet chose. They could run to a single line or an entire essay. TSR will post the responses periodically throughout the coming weeks.

To kick off, the poet Adebe D.A., author of the 2010 collection ex nihilo, offers the following endorsement of poetry’s scope and vision.


how to breathe underwater

you wondered why I
so often gave myself
to the sea
when my offering
was a life of turbulence,
unspeakable dark

but I see now
why you were confused –

I had forgotten that most of us never see
the beauty
++++++++++quiet danger
of the naked word, a sole verse
that within it can contain
an entire soul.