Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Why winter is the perfect time for poetry

Why winter is the perfect time for poetry

Our pop culture expert on wallowing in the words of a stranger when things are dark and gloomy

Bim Adewunmi
Saturdady 23 December 2017


ntil school forced me, I do not remember consuming much poetry. Finally, I went beyond the pop culture nuggets of Auden and Larkin and the sonnets, and instead learned to dissect Heaney and Hughes and “conflict poetry” to the standards of an exam board. The curriculum tried: my first Walcott came in Year 10 or 11, and Love After Love is perhaps my favourite poem, still – but well, you know.

At least I learned a valuable lesson from reading the works of those many dead, white poets: I go to poetry to be moved. I know; it is a spectacular burden to place on a literary form. And yet when I first read, “We took turns to bury each other”, the opening line from Burial, a poem by South African poet Koleka Putuma, it felt to me like that burden weighed nothing at all.

Koleka Putuma

Winter is the time for poetry. Nature gets dramatic at this time of year, and we attempt to match it as best we can. There is nothing better than wallowing in the words of a stranger when things are dark and gloomy and you feel a bit Bette Davis in Now, Voyager. When Putuma writes “(your silence is too loud for this noisy place)” in In Public, and the wind picks up outside, the feeling in my chest is something akin to flight. When I saw her perform her poem Water, a blistering take on stereotypes and the history of apartheid, I burst into tears.

Her poetry makes me feel angry and vulnerable, which can be good things, even when they’re not exactly welcome. Everything is subjective, of course. I hold to the romantic notion that certain poems come to us as and when we need them the most.


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