Reasons to be Cheerful
©Bas Kwakman

You canít eat poetry. Rain goes right through it, and it doesnít burn for long enough to really keep you warm. Poetry doesnít provide a roof above your head, doesnít give you a bed, bath or bread; it doesnít save you from traffic jams, and you canít smear it over your legs when you go to the beach.

Poetry doesnít occupy any hotel rooms. Poetry doesnít fill restaurants, and neither does it help the growth of the middle class in the city centre. Poetry doesnít care about the North/South divide, nor the one between East and West, and it canít stop continental drift, the rise in sea levels or atmospheric pollution.

In a school class of 30 children, only 0.2are touched by poetry. This translates to 1.3 children in an average residential area, and 12.4 in a city with a population of 200,000. Poetry barely touches urban illiteracy rates. Itís not on television, doesnít influence viewing or listening figures, and doesnít keep a single person from alcohol, drugs, smoking or a fatty diet. Poetry doesnít ban wheely suitcases. It pays no role in collective bargaining, doesnít urge stakeholders towards horizontal clustering or lure people to the polls. Poetry doesnít attract major sponsors, it holds no sway over public debate, and it doesnít level out top salaries.

Poetry doesnít fill the gap left by withdrawing government and is not armed against the flipsides of the digital revolution. Poetry doesnít warn about gas leaks or excessively high levels of particulate matter;it doesnít stop a single militant traveling to Syria or help you journey safely from Africa to Italy. Poetry doesnít keep a single boat afloat, or an airplane in the sky, or a car on the road.

Poetry is tough. Tricky. Eccentric. It is contrived language. A secret language used amongst friends. Museum language. Barrier language. Opaque language. Anti-communication. Perverse language that bypasses all rules and conventions. Elitist language that reminds us of the limits of our brains, again and again. It is an elusive, arrogant, intellectual language. Language that alienates and discriminates. Partisan, anti-democratic language. Poetry is the soft language of a tiny voice, spoken by a negligible minority.

No one gets rich from poetry. Not the poet, not the designer, not the printer, the editor, the publisher or the distributor, not the bookseller or the festival organizer. Poetry evades all laws of economics, all social codes. Poetry is elusive, and in its elusiveness it fuels your doubts and increases your ability to fail. Poetry is arguably the most precise language when you falter. And the most unstable language when you are fully conscious. When poetry pulls you into unaccountable visions and the darkness of night thoughts, it is the torpedo from the depths, the inventory of our confusion and our shortcomings, of our resistance to perfection. It is the language that seduces us and overwhelms us when we think weĎve mastered it, shakes us awake when we think we must rest and convinces us that we are wrong at the moment of our conviction. It is poetry that offers us possible words when something momentous happens to us. It offers a complexity that is consoling.

Poetry is more than the words it speaks. It is, as the poets in this collection express, more than speech without sound, more than words that donít sleep. It is the power of words, the mastery of the original thought, delicate and elusive, bobbing at the height of the bushes. It is the visible side that announces the colour, a virginís scream in the rainbow; it is a beauty worth protecting, cheek to cheek. It is the literal potential of things, a mimicry of migrating birds, the union of foliage and sun, a contract with the clouds. It is everything that becomes visible during defrosting, and the truth we forget because of remembering.

Poetry is, as the Dutch Poet Laureate Anne Vegter recently said, the stool we climb onto when we want to peek into other realities. Poetry is able to bring countries like Holland and India cheek-to-cheek. What poetry is, it is in itself. ĎThat which cannot be conceived through anything else must be conceived through itself,' Spinoza once said. Or, poetry isnít about something, it is something. Poetry, ladies and gentlemen, is happiness.



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