Unleashing the Poet in Us

“Through the writing of poetry, they expunge from their selves the terrible passions that inhabit their unconscious.” – Isagani R. Cruz

Writing. It has always been my passion. Poetry. Whether my pen dictates my hand to scribble seemingly senseless lines or my heart thirsts for soothing metaphors from my favorite poetry collection. One thing is for sure – writing and poetry, when mixed together, can create an effective antidote when madness hovers around me. Or when, as poet-critic Cirilo F. Bautista said, the monkey on every poet’s back begin to pester and would never make me sleep not until I begin to write a poem. Writing poetry is the only way to calm my madness. As Isagani R. Cruz reveals, “poets write poetry in order not to go crazy.”

But this is not about me being a poet. It’s all about us. I believe that in every person lies a certain poetic instinct that drives one to appreciate the power of poetry and even possesses a tremendous passion to express his or her own madness. As Cruz points out, “poetry is an escape from the self. In another sense, however, poetry is an affirmation of self, because it is in poetry that poets express everything they consciously are.” Furthermore, reading poetry alone does not provide anything useful to ourselves, unlike scientific or self-help books. Instead, poetry takes us to an experience beyond ourselves. It allows us to experience what other people experienced. And the only way to reach that is what poets and, I think, each and every one of us has: Passion. Great Passion. The one that leads us to madness to the point of killing ourselves.

You know you’re a poet if…
How do you know if you are a poet or not? Well, Isagani R. Cruz provides us two determinants which would tell us if we have the makings of a poet. As he exclaims, it is easy to find out if you are a poet or not.

First, if you fall in love with someone so much you would kill yourself if s/he rejects you. I would presume that with this first symptom everyone might agree that, indeed, they have the makings of a poet. I could not agree more. One can even fill up with poems the pages of his notebook with lines invoking death to consume him because the lady of his life has thrown him in a bin. So sad, isn’t it? In my part as a literary editor of the student journal, I always notice that most poems linger on this subject – the pain of loving. I find it rather weird that loving can be ridiculous sometimes. Corny, that is. But it even hits me that, everytime I read those poems, the reality of loving despite its “corny-ness” is an individual’s coping mechanism against his/her madness. Poetry, thus becomes an expression. Regardless of imagery, prosody, and other poetic elements (which I, as a literature student, am always conscious about), a person shields himself or herself from the verge of being insane because of rejection. About killing one’s self, no sane person would do such thing; but poets are not sane. More precisely, poets would be insane, if they did not have their poetry to save them from falling over the edge.

Lastly, if you would kill millions of people just to prove that you are right. Quite a radical idea, right? This is more than insanity you might think, but it is an ultimate determinant not just of being a poet, but a visionary and a revolutionary, too. Cruz illustrates this by telling us of Mao Zedong writing lots of poems, or of the young Karl Marx who wanted only to be a writer, or of the young Ferdinand Marcos whose dream was to write the Great Filipino Novel who continued in his later years to write verse, or Jose Ma. Sison who was a poet before he read Marx. It does not mean to say that we are going to become communists or dictators in the future, but we should think of how many people have been killed in their names. It takes a poetic sensibility to think that one can and should change the world.

The beautiful sadness in every line
Yasunari Kawabata, the Japanese poet, said that all things that are beautiful are sad. What are sad things that poets consider beautiful? What do they write about? Very few things actually. If you consider writing on these subjects, then you might have the makings of a poet. Love. Hate. Loneliness. Jealousy. Anger. See, it all goes back to Passion. If you happen to read the poems of great poets like Dickinson, Donne, Balagtas, Hernandez, again and again, the same themes are explored. There are no new themes in poetry. There are no new subjects. All the poems that have survived the deaths of their authors have all been about human passion. The problem why we often forget other poets is because they are forgettable, that is, they have written about little incidents in their lives or they have small minds. In short, they only wrote about themselves. But Shakespeare? Who could ever forget him? His plays and sonnets have survived throughout time because he wrote about love and loneliness and other great passions.

If someone wants to be remembered, s/he should write poetry. S/he must forget about his/her self and keep writing poems. As Cruz points out, “People who become presidents of countries or corporations will be forgotten after a century, but the solitary poet, known only to other poets and perhaps a few critics and readers will survive the inanities of time and space. Shakespeare still lives, still influences the lives of countless readers, still has his lines implanted in people’s memories, but who remembers the most powerful or the wealthiest person during Shakespeare’s lifetime?”

As the information highway snatches our passion towards literature, we believe that material things can actually satiates our desires in life. We grow old obliviously, but we realize we have attained nothing. If we keep our passions alive by unleashing the poet in us, then, it is poetry that helps us keep going despite our madness.
We need not worry if we think we are not capable of writing poems or could not pacify the monkey that pesters us every night. There is still a solution which Isagani R. Cruz recommends to us. He said, “What really constitutes poetic justice is that the most powerful and the wealthiest people very often, when they feel that they are about to go crazy, read poetry to save them from themselves. It is the next best thing to writing poetry.”

Hey, we need not be wealthy or famous. The library is teeming with poetry books which we could borrow. Grab one and be a poet yourself.

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