Who needs poetry?
I remember considering Tony Green's rejection of the intricacies of grading a sort of abdication of intellectual responsibility, and a sign of softheadedness. Near the end of this year's first semester at the 'Atenisi Institute, though, I felt a sudden surge of sympathy for Tony.
Tevita Manuatu, who was made dux of 'Atenisi in 2012 and is on the verge of finishing his Bachelors Degree at the tender age of twenty, had attended my Creative Writing classes assiduously, and had not ceased to argue that literature, and indeed all forms of art, were somewhat eccentric and superfluous pursuits. When I talked about the visionary trances of poets like Rimbaud or the intricate imaginary worlds created by novelists like Don De Lillo, Tevita argued in favour of the 'objective' methods of scientists and lawyers, and the transparent, universally accessible texts that these professionals supposedly produce. Why, Tevita wanted to know, didn't poets accept the necessity of communicating, in calm and clear language, with the widest possible audience? Why did they succumb to obscure images and private reveries?
When I asked students to produce 'subjective maps' of their lives, which should combine features of the geography of Tonga with their own memories and fantasies, Tevita eschewed the distorted distances, grotesque illustrations, and scabrous annotations used by other students, and instead created an coolly accurate map of his home village of Kala'au, complete with quasi-ethnographic notes on land distribution and use.
Towards the end of the semester Tevita gave me a carefully argued essay called 'Creativity', in which he argued against the possibility of deciding that any work of art was more worthy than another. Shortly afterwards he handed in a long and fascinating oral history of Kala'au, which he had collected at the knees of elderly members of his village. Tevita's history spanned centuries, and acted as a sort of complement to his map, explaining the names which landmarks like Niue Cemetery and Tsunami Rock had acquired.
How could I give Tevita the mark his final piece of work for Creative Writing deserved, when he had scorned the very notion of literature? I decided, eventually, to give him the A he deserved, but not before I'd understood the dark nights of the soul that Tony Green must have suffered as he struggled to balance the various qualities of his students and award them fair marks.
Here's a text Tevita's criticisms of literature inspired from me. I'd like to think that I'm defying Tevita's arguments by making them into poetry, even if the poetry in question is perfunctory and mediocre.
I'll post excerpts from Tevita's history of Kala'au on this blog soon.
Poems against Poetry
Ted Hughes wrote about soaring hawks
but drop his Collected Poems from the shelf
and it flies low
like a chook.
At Castle church Luther swung his hammer
Trakl's giant pale orb
is a Japanese fisherman's float,
not the gouged eye