Antjie Krog on poetry
Poetry uses the grandeur of the tensions in language to say something. Poetry uses aesthetics as its ethical spectacles. And because poetry encompasses content and medium so intimately, any real doubts as to what exactly might be an enemy of poetry are often those of the poet him- or herself. Sometimes you stand at the crossroads: your interwovenness with poetry is cut through by your interwovenness as a person in language and time. Sometimes a time comes when you can no longer speak with integrity from the stuttering pronoun ‘I’; the us must be that of the marginalized.
In West Africa I met a poet from the Sahara, a Berber. When he recites his poems it’s as if you can hear the sounds of the wind and of camels in them. In my culture, I say, a poet is measured by how newly he can say things. In my culture, says the Berber, a poet is measured by how he can preserve things. Poetry is our lyrical soul, you learn who you are and where you come from, from our oral poetry. And you may not change anything, for then you’re tearing the history of our soul.
I also met a poet from a nomadic tribe of the Sahara. In my culture, he said, the poet’s task is to remember the waterholes. The survival of the whole group depends on remembering where the water is. As a poet, you have to remember the waterholes in such a way as to ensure that you and your people can find them again without betraying them to others.
It is evening on the edge of the desert. The head of the Tuareg community pushes his fist up among the heavy, lumpish stars and calls out through the microphone: "Even if they break my pen, my words take flame; even if they destroy my horses and camels, my teeth are locked in their sinews. Even if they rob me of my last breath, I wring their neck. I am the revolution. The desert makes me free."
Antjie Krog — from In Defence of Poetry 2004