Posted by: Viola | July 20, 2010

Conference & Credo

On May 1st, 2010, I got the news. I had been awarded a scholarship to attend my very first writer’s conference. I was so thrilled and happy that I burst into tears. The conference is later this year, and I am looking forward to it. For several days, I will attend a poetry workshop, led by a professional poet. I will also have the chance to read one or two of my poems to an audience of writers/poets. I have some work to do, in order to be ready for the conference. (1) In a few weeks, I will make a selection of what poems to read, I will read them and time myself (with a little, digital timer my sister got and stuck to our refrigerator), and then I will begin rehearsing the poems. I need to be able to read them without any errors, and if necessary, I need to be able to recite them without looking at the page. (2) I will assemble a portfolio of my best poems. I need to take them with me to the conference and have them on-hand to share with other poets and any editors/agents at the conference. I’m not too sure anything will come of it, but if I do meet people who enjoy my poetry, then I need to be ready to show them more of it.

When I submitted my application for the conference, I had to write a cover letter. In my cover letter, I talked about why poetry is important to me, why it is my chosen genre as a creative writer. I talked about my poems, specifically, and what makes them mine. I came up with something like a credo, my philosophy or opinion about poetry:

I believe in the power of poetry to uplift humanity. I don’t believe this in an abstract way. As someone who was born and raised in the Republic of Cameroon, I cannot separate my poems from the politics of what it means to be an African. When I write, I am aware of the negative historical narratives about Africans. Poetry offers me a way to both embrace and subvert these narratives. In my poems, Africa is not a place that has been forgotten or “left behind.” Africans are not always people at the periphery of our world; they are at the center, too. They fit into time and history the way we all do, as individuals who are sometimes powerful and sometimes powerless to change the worlds they live in. We all make do with what we have–with whatever we can find and use for building blocks.

In my poems, life can be graceful or tragic, but it must be lit up by the touch of humor and pride. For me, this is what it means to be Cameroonian and to live with dignity: to be able to laugh at myself but also take pride in who I am. I try to capture this in my poems. Mostly, when I write, I try to replay the music I hear when I am in Africa, see the rough tapestry of the country I call home, and feel my memories come alive in every line.

No doubt this philosophy will change and get refined, as I continue to write poems and study other poets. I will probably also use and reuse this credo, in different places and for different purposes. It helps me to know what I believe in, helps to understand why I am devoting myself to a life of writing. Sometimes, when I close my eyes in confusion and when I feel uncertain about my future, I latch onto this faith I have in poetry, this thing that gives me a sense of purpose in my life. It feels like a prayer. Like a meditation. Or a mantra. It feels like hope and peace.

Sometimes, it just feels soothing to say: I believe in the power of poetry.

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