Can we agree that there exists this realm of creativity into which the artist’s mind must soar or descend before they can create? Can we also agree that this realm is a ‘restricted area’, accessed only by those minds that have found ways to locate the access ports, which might be what the music composer, Yanni, means by ‘the keys to the imagination’? Is it impossible to imagine poets as miners of imageries who have to erect derricks over the hard shell that incases the realm of creativity? Is it not reasonable to believe that the poet’s first attempts will either drill too deep, to reach the dregs, or go too shallow, to suck up the watery parts? If so, would it then not be unfair or premature to judge poets based on their not-so-impressive debut works since only through constant practice and perseverance can one master the art of projecting the shaft to the proper degree?
Apart from the quality of crude imageries the poet succeeds in bringing up, other important tasks he or she must handle are refining and delivery. And this is where the poet’s mastery of his or her preferred language of communication comes into play. 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.
To be able to think, to imagine and to reason without a commensurate ability to represent them in sounds and/or in symbols is akin to the eunuch who can only fantasise about sleeping with the princess under his care. Perhaps it is the horror of being able to imagine a world without having the means of expressing it that has made a lot of persons consider language as the greatest of human inventions. Although no single language is complete enough to represent everything whether abstract or 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 not uncommon to find that we lack the vocabulary to convey our thoughts and mental images. Worst of all is that when we sometimes find words, they are often not the most appropriate thereby diminishing the exactness and quality of our thoughts and feelings. Also of prime importance is the dynamic, or rather, organic, nature of language. Since like all living things, language grows, stagnates and dies, it behoves the poet to ensure that his or her grip on language remains firm and up-to-date. But then, perhaps it is time to ask the question: what makes one a poet? Is it one’s ability to poetise, or one’s suitability as a medium, or the combination of both?
Not too long ago, I asked some Nigerian poets how soon we should be expecting their next poetry collections and some of them, notably Nwachukwu Egbunike and Servio Gbadamosi, informed me that they needed some rest before thinking of bringing out another work. This position of theirs made me wonder: is poetising a conscious, energy-sapping engagement? Is it like gestation at the end of which the mother must take some respite before the next conception? Is poetising an unconscious exercise during which the poet’s faculties are commandeered by some alien and overpowering force which leaves the poet’s mind exhausted at the end of the session such that the poet cannot but seek reprieve afterwards? It was reported that Friedrich Schiller, the German romantic writer, was found rolling and convulsing on the floor when he was composing the scene between Eboli and the princess. Oskar Pfister states in The Psychoanalytic Method that:
Every productivity of the highest value, every great thought which brings fruits and has results, escapes the individual power of man, and is related to the demonic power which, endowed with superior force, does with a man what it wills, and to which he yields unconsciously, while he thinks he is acting on his own initiative.
In Ion, Socrates avers that:
The Muse inspires men herself… For all the good epic poets utter all these fine epic poems not from art, but as inspired and possessed and the good lyric poets likewise; just as the Corbantian worshippers do not dance when in their senses, so the lyric poets do not indite those fine songs in their senses… For a poet… is unable ever to indite until he has been inspired and put out of his senses, and his mind is no longer in him: every man, whilst he retains possession of that, is powerless to indite a verse or chant an oracle. Seeing then that it is not by art that they compose and utter so many fine things about the deeds of men – as you do Homer – but by a divine dispensation, each is able only to compose that to which the Muse has stirred him … Since, if they had fully learnt by art to speak on one kind of theme, they would know how to speak on all. And for this reason god takes away the mind of these men and uses them as his ministers, just as he does soothsayers and goodly seers, in order that we who hear them may know that it is not they who utter these words of great price, when they are out of their wits, but that it is god himself who speaks and addresses us through them.
It is to be noted that Pfister and Socrates are concerned with those creative works that would pass for ‘productivity of the highest value’ and ‘fine epic poems’. It implies that poets may lay exclusive claim on all their other works but those ‘of the highest value’. And if, therefore, poets are not the true owners of their outstanding works but are merely mediums through which some other creator (in this case, the Muse) expresses itself, it would not be out of place to expect that poets were morally bound to either publish their works anonymously or ascribe them to the Muse…