March 21 is the day dedicated by UNESCO to poetry. In light of this, today’s article will focus on poetry, why I think it’s important, and a famous Guyanese poet.
Poetry, like other forms of writings such as prose and plays, has one major purpose – expression of an idea. However, poetry deviates from the latter two in that it is more fluid. Poetry plays with words that we already know. In some cases it arranges them so that they are pleasant to listen to, in others, it uses minimal words to convey profound meanings, and sometimes it puts thoughts together in a seemingly illogical way to convey a feeling about a particular theme. Even if you don’t appreciate having to analyse poetry, you can appreciate the complexity and variety of poems that exist. I personally, think poetry is freeing. It allows the writer to describe his or hers feelings with little restrictions on formatting or convention, and as a result often time produces pure, raw pieces of emotion.
Poets are, contrary to popular belief, more than just romantics. In some cases, their pieces can be used to motivate social changes, and can be considered as political activism. However, the beautiful thing about poetry is that although the poet may be describing a specific circumstance, others, generations and cultures apart can relate to the themes explored.
This makes them exceptionally powerful. Such is the case, with Guyana’s own Martin Carter. Born in 1927, to a middle-income mixed family, Carter was raised in a home that supported exploration of philosophy and poetry. He attained entry to Queen’s College where he began to pursue poetry more seriously. He published his first pieces in the magazine Kyk Over Al, and by 1951, The Hill of Fire Glows Red, his first poetry selection was published. Carter became more and more politically involved, with the formation of the People’s Progressive Party in 1950. However, after the Party won the election in 1953, they only lasted a hundred and thirty three days in Government, as the British suspended the Constitution, claiming that the country was becoming communist. Carter, who was then returning from a conference, was arrested. At this point, his work took up an even more important role. It served as insight into the feelings of the Guyanese people during this period of oppression.
It encouraged readers to be persistent, to become independent, and in general to stand up against injustice. In one of his poems of resistance, “Letter”, Carter writes, ‘If I do not live to see that day / My son will see it. / If he does not see that day / His son will see it. / And it will come circling the world like fire’.
His poetry continued to chronicle the life of Guyanese post independence, and in the 1970’s during periods of unrest, the tone of the poems once again changed to reflect his feelings about the turbulence occurring within the country. His works have been heralded as some of the best in the Caribbean, and perhaps is amongst the best in the world.
I know there is much more that can be said about Martin Carter, and his contribution to the literary society of Guyana, but the above is my small tribute. May you remember his words, and may you think of the importance of poetry as you do.