Says Benjamin Whorf, the famous linguistic anthropologist: ‘Language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual’s mental activity.’
Having the ability to think, imagine and reason without the means to represent them in sounds and/or in symbols reduces a person to a eunuch who can only fantasize sleeping with the princess under his care. Perhaps it is the horror of imagining a world devoid of the means of communication that makes a lot of persons to classify language as the greatest of human inventions.
Although no single language is complete enough to represent everything both abstract and concrete, Noam Chomsky believes that it is possible to say and understand a virtually unlimited number of new things if one masters how to play by the rules governing word combination. In other words, to make infinite use of the finite number of words in one’s vocabulary, one must understand the patterning that underlies their combination.
Even at that, it is normal that we often lack the vocabulary to describe the details or quality of our thoughts and mental images. Worst of all is that when we do find words to portray our mental states, the words are often not the most appropriate thereby diminishing the exactness and value of the written and/ or spoken report.
As miners of imageries, poets erect derricks over the crust of the realm of imagination. And as it turns out more often, their first attempt either drill too deep for the thick crude or too shallow for the watery juice. Because of that, it might be premature to judge poets based on their debuts. Only through constant practice and perseverance can they then master the art of lowering the shaft to the proper depth. Apart from the quality of crude imageries the poet succeeds to suck up, other important tasks he or she must handle are refining and packaging. And this is where the poet’s mastery of his or her preferred language of communication comes to play.
Indefinite Cravings, Paul Liam’s debut poetry collection, is not free from that virus that plagues debut works of art. The reader will sense a significant degree of over-zealousness on the part of the poet to sound more poetic than necessary. We see babble used adjectivally in ‘As babble whispers of partisan crickets’ (‘Gong’, Pp. 1), while the adjective shrunken is verbified in ‘Men have shrunken to dry stalks’ (‘Misery’, Pp. 9). The noun stillbirth is used as an adjective in ‘of stillbirth yields’ (‘Counsel’, Pp. 38); goddess is also used as an adjective in ‘She exudes goddess elegance’ (‘Naomi’, Pp. 39).
Gnashing of teeth, a very familiar idiom, is reduced to gnash in ‘And gnash gravely our loss’ (‘Infinite Cravings’, Pp. 14)’ which hardly conveys the same meaning as the former. In ‘And fear pave for fortunes’ (‘Unburden Your Heart’, Pp. 20), the reader would easily suspect that the poet was thinking of the phrasal verb pave the way, which roughly means to cover a road with material to make it suitable for use.
There is repeated omission of articles such as a and the as can be seen in ‘tired of wrecking cold’, Pp. 7. The absence of a or the before wrecking leaves the latter to be interpreted either as a verb or as an adjective.
And the misappropriation of prepositions as in ‘We have partaken of the baptism of hypocrisy’ (‘Dawn Smell’, Pp. 5).
The book is rife with beautifully sounding lines and stanzas which seem well-formed and appear grammatical yet are not as pure as they should be.
Dawn smell grips us
As calisthenics of kids
Nabs willing hearts
(‘Dawn Smell’, Pp. 5)
Appetites has divorced our stomachs
At sight of streaming blood
(‘Dilemma’, Pp. 17)
He hears the cry in your belly
And feeds your cravings
Like breast milk to a crying child…
(‘A True Friend’, Pp. 52)
Whatever ‘feeds your cravings’ aggravates them rather than quell them, and that is not what breast milk does to a crying child.
But Indefinite Cravings is not altogether a troublesome book. There is enough evidence therein to proof that such a book could only have gushed from the mind of a real poet. The book is studded with sparks powerful enough to start a fire.
The book is a bundle of cravings and longings of both the I and the We— some realistic, some ludicrous. These cravings are not just for socio-economic improvement as can be seen in ‘Compatriot’, ‘For How Long’, and in ‘Why’. This craving extends to the cultural as we see in ‘The Host’ in which the people are too desperate to shed their old slough for foreign acculturation. Moreover, the longing continues even to the erotic as in ‘Naomi’.
… I dream of a sail on the lustre
Of her sizzling heaps
Lazing at the tenderness of those
Suck buying my shyness in the pleasures
Of her drowning cleavage nibbling
The cum of her gravel nipples…
(‘Naomi’, Pp. 39).
It is good for poets to locate oil-rich lands. However, it is better that they locate inexhaustible sites to sink their shafts. It is of great consolation that after Indefinite Cravings, Paul Liam has been able to bring out a second poetry collection which is of a finer quality than the former. It is the hope of his readers that his well never runs dry so that he should continue producing.