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Silence, Solitude and Poetry

by  Richard Oduor

Comrade, this is no poem,

Who touches this

Touches Doctor Barky’s patented magic cabinet of

certified, strictly guarantee simplicity and truth.

–          Kenneth Fearing

As usual, I’m sitting in the study. It’s quiet; pin-drop silence, except for the tap-tap music of my fingers raining instructions on the keyboard. I have nothing in particular in mind, but I hope that as I write along, my thoughts will flow like the silent rivers of servitude that hide beneath the cursing of a tormented self; that they will unclothe my pretences and urge my self to tip-toe into the nether regions of the mind, where the library of life is housed.

I still my nerves and wait for a lullaby from the dead past to remind me that the future sleeps unlived. Once in a while we need our own space, just to sit calmly and meditate on the beauty of life. I watch my steps, carefully like a baby making the first steps amidst laughter and encouragement from older siblings. I can see the lines of thought congregating behind monstrous walls of artificiality. Each with a hammer, they begin to chisel out obstacles – sweat by sweat.

How long is patience? How long should we persevere? No. Not again, I disregard the entreating discourse and debar myself from tackling any topic that will force me to outline the ugliness of our personal lives, our neighborhoods, our country, our world! Well, TVs and newspapers are already doing a splendid job in informing us about our world. Of course they lie sometimes, but their lies are a reflection not of the white writing sheets or the silver screen, but of the morality of our society.

I will hide in poetry today. I will revel in the beauty of this sacred form of art and glory in the simple things in our lives. However, I won’t run to the classics and scream names that we’ll have  the pleasure of screaming out to a dead world, rather the poems I’ll throw in the jungle are jumbled and dissociated. Some poems are seemingly demented or their authors were obviously drowning in creative feats to be able to say so much, in so few words.

No poem epitomizes how I feel now than Charles Reznikoff’s “Te Deum” (1998).

Not because of victories

I sing,

having none,

but for the common sunshine,

the breeze,

the largesse of the spring.

Not for victory

but for the day’s work done

as well as I was able;

not for a seat upon the dais

but at the common table.

More often, we tend to disregard the simple pleasures and hang our lives achievements on the tall trees of our titles.

“Professionally, I am a Biomedical Scientist,” so says Richard, “but I also do A, B, and Z.”

Sometimes all that bullcrap is what we know of ourselves. Such titles give us prestige and comfort. Such titles keep some people from getting close to us and having a good genuine conversation because the main value of titles is that they serve as a tool for differentiating individuals, of classifying people into specific predetermined classes of abilities. Rob,  of all the knowledge he has gained in academic books, you’d know the colour of his heart. I’ve also learnt that all human beings are intrinsically intelligent. With the right questions, you can get answers (even though simply structured) from one you had condemned to the dungeons of stupidity. To connect with people, at a more personal level, you have to do is to know yourself. Every stranger is a potential teacher.

Rarely do many appreciate the precious moments that sugar-coat the solitude of own-space. Yet it is during these silent moments that we honestly create, that we build the creative notes to something worth reading. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually. Just understand that inspiration usually precedes the desire to create something new. Sometimes an idea pops up when you in the middle of doing something. Sometimes when walking down the street and I suddenly get the itch to draw something, I just stop and pull aside and write that beautiful line. Just like that. In most cases, if I don’t stop and jot the damn line, it will pass and get lost among the billions of unfulfilled creative prompts heaping at the back of my brain. If you let that moment pass then you’ll end up writing a memory, which we all know is sometimes not very pleasant. Never put the cart before the horse. Don’t get into that trap of “I must write something today”. Feel the itch, get to work – as simple as that. To be very productive, you must find a way of creating that takes full advantage of your inspired moments. They never hit at a convenient time nor do these moments last long.

Writer’s block is another excuse we love stitching to the procrastination bag. Don’t fret too much about these damn blocks. If you have a piece of paper before you or a Word doc and nothing comes, go do something else – you can call your girlfriend or make your wife some sumptuous dinner. Hugh McLeod says that writers block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you should feel the need to say something. For heavens sake if you have something to say, just say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts – the noise will return soon enough. Trying to create something when you don’t feel like doing it is like making a conversation for the sake of making a conversation. We all know it never really connects, it’s just droning on like an old drunken barfly. Of course what I’m talking about is nothing new. So many other people have said the same.

And when you write, please do so from the heart. When you write, assume you are writing only for one person. Connect with that one person. You can’t love a crowd, but you can love a person. You want to be intimate with the crowd. Good idea, but intimacy doesn’t scale. Intimacy is a one-on-one thing. So when you are writing for the whole damn world, connect with just a single person. To do so, you must write from the heart. Another thing, learn to sing in your own damn voice. Don’t write like another does. Nobody is interested in a pretentious conversation. The world wants to hear your true voice. That is what people respond to, because it carries your self with it.

Damn! Now this is degenerating into some I-know-it-all kind of motivational hullabaloo! Stop. Poets love solitude and it’s during such moments that they produce some of their best works. Emulating Wittgenstein, Emmanuel Hocquard took up his own solitude on an artist friend’s firm in Bouliac. There he wrote a set of unconventional sonnets and practiced other literary forms as well. One day he wrote a poem addressed to a single recipient, a woman named Vivian known to the poet because he bought  bread from her in Fargues. The deceptive simplicity of the poem entreats, confuses. Enjoy;

That which separates two words is like that which separates

two loaves or two wasps.

Region of fluctuating limits.

Viviane with her breads in the broken space of the

boulangerie like me with my words facing

the screen.

This says: “I remember Viviane.”

Bits of bread or bits of language between which


Traces of the wolves that sing between the canale and the

burnt trunk.

January first,

my table a waste land

under the sun.

I need to close, and an excerpt from George Oppen’s DAYBOOK will suffice (the structure;

Clarity for my sake. That I may remember my life.

The images: small narratives within the poem.

“avant-garde”: I have no liking for the word and no need of it One

does not need the word, it is obvious that there is little use

in repeating what has been adequately said before. I am

concerned with ‘thinking’ (involuntary thoughts) that

requires the poem, the verse.

…the poem is NOT built out of words, one cannot make a poem by

sticking words into it, it is the poem that makes the words

and contains their meaning

I would like the poem to be transparent, inaudible

This seems no time to argue poetic technique or poetic principle. That

has all been done. …

I do not care for “systems,” what concerns me is the philosophy of the





POETRY: Openness:: it opens

The event does not take place in the word. A different event takes place

in the word. The word must dissolve to reveal the event

the words must be slowed down … If the words chatter, the poem

moves slowly: if the words chatter the poem may take

pages to say almost nothing…

I don’t mean that the poetry will serve as politics: I know it will not.

a poem is written to test, salvage, restore — two or three words. Or

one word. More likely one word.

Richard Oduor is a poet, critic and  writer. He is a holder of a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Science and Technology, Egerton University. He works as a Research Consultant and lives in Nairobi, Kenya. His first poetry collection is with the publisher. He is also working on a novel and a number of short stories. He also runs Grand Debate where he posts regularly on anything worth writing about.