Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ari Sitas by Shana

<>Ari Sitas’ “Tradition of Poetry in Natal

In Traditions of Poetry, Ari Sitas analyzes the value poetry has for working-class social movements in South Africa. He chooses to do by probing into the contributions orators and writers have made to the movement through their chosen mode of expression. By dividing the writers along the lines of oral and written expression, Sitas hopes to convey the inherent power that can be captured and loss through the poets’ use of voice or scripture. Sitas declines valuing one form of poetic expression over another, choosing instead to show how various poets have used their chosen medium to aid in the “people’s,” i.e. Natal’s working-class, empowerment and struggle for economic, political, and social equality. <>In the following response, I will first introduce the scripture poets analyzed by Sitas, and then explain how their personal style and use of prose is effective or ineffective at reaching the people. Next I will discuss the five oral poets is the same fashion. An important thread that ties each poet together in Sitas’ analysis, regardless of their genre, is how the poets’ background influences their poetic style, the poets’ need to by heard and be representative of the people’s social and cultural movements, and their foundation in Zulu oral tradition.

The driving force behind many poets is the need to be the “people’s poet” and the need to create the “people’s poetry. (139) However, scripture poets who hope to capture and empower the struggle of the people have the difficult task of overcoming the barrier that the written word erects between the poet and a people “to whom paper was as good for cigarettes as it was for words.”(139) Three written poets, Dhlomo, Kunene, and Gwala, try accomplishing this task through this obstructive medium. Dhlomo hopes to appeal to the “New African”, “ a class of intellectual and intelligently organized black workers by writing “’black classics’ of literature in the service of the community.” However intelligent and forceful his words, his choice to both write and write only in English prevent his works from reaching the people. However, his works, far from failures, serve to clear the path for future poets. Kunene hopes to channel the rich Zulu oral tradition by writing in Zulu. He does so in order to avoid English’s colonial restraints, but unfortunately, “the people” cannot read Zulu. However, his rich background in Zulu oration and his attempt to merge Zulu oral praise with written expressions serves as a founder for future “spiritual preoccupations of the black consciousness movement.”(146) Gwala, is an orator as well as a writer, however his performed poetry failed to reach pass small groups of black militants. Thus, his poetic works, which were intended for performance, are regulated to bound pages. Sitas points out that each of the scripture poets are trying to communicate through in “imagined oral language --- communication trapped in print.”(149) Adding to the tragedy that these poets are “unread by the people” is that these poets will continue to be separated from the people until social conditions improve, making it possible for ‘the people’ to read.

Sitas believes that oral poetry is “one of the most powerful means of expression,” and that it channels the people need to control their own creativity and own their own voices. Five orators chosen by Sitas in his analysis are Vilane, Zondi, Hlatswhayo, and Qabula. The orators capitalize on the tradition of the black working class’s subsistence on “oral modes of communication and celebration.”(151). Particularly insightful is how many of the for mentioned orators use Zulu tradition and history in various ways to the people’s everyday struggles, and empower the movement. Each orator also channels his own background and formal or lack of formal education to bring inspiration to the people. Oration allows for such variety in education attainment, unlike written, because it allows poets to compose in any language, whether formal or informal. It also allows them capture the immediate concerns of the people, their transitions, and the changing world; thus creating a “popular poetry of the people that is very accessible.

According to Sitas, regardless of the differences that separate the written and oral poetry, they share the following five principles: (1) promise of hope and redemption, no matter how distant, (2)haunted by violence and death, (3)despite this harshness, it makes aware that “there is defiance and it is defiant,” (4) claims familiarity with the people, and (5)is self-reflective and “critical of popular organizations and popular habits and practices.”(159) Sitas hopes that the two traditions can learn from the other through the way they express themselves. It is through this articulation of events, of the people’s story, that we will learn.

Sitas stresses the differences between the two genres in hopes of enlightening the reader of the ability the two forms have in producing social change. Sitas accomplishes this aspirant task by analyzing the work, form and delivery of three great scripted poets and four oral poets. Most importantly, and a credit to the purpose of his paper, Sitas shows the ways each poet, through their chosen genre, contributes to the people’s empowerment. Yet, he also shows how the poets’ chosen genre limits their ability to completely capture the people’s voice and move their social movement to a higher plane. However, it is not a matter of which genre is better, rather how the differences in the poetic expressions are empowering the people who need to them.