Cometh the poetry, cometh the poet | Daily News

Cometh the poetry, cometh the poet

Title: The April 21st Consensus
Author: Lynn Ockersz
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Darshana Publishers

The cubicle allocated to the Editor in Chief of Daily News in itself is a chronicle. The workspace has accommodated charismatic personalities for over a hundred years. There is, of course, more to be said of this post than the holder’s political allegiance. In a country where English is still considered an elitist tool (at least to a certain extent), the post of Daily News Chief Editor matters. The position requires a decent command of the Queen’s language, for one. That said, the occupants of Daily News Chief Editor’s room have been personalities par excellence. They cut a dash above the rest in the journalist fraternity.

As one-time Chief Editor, Lynn Ockersz, of course, walks tall and straight. Ockersz has earned a reputation in the fraternity for his eloquent use of English. That is so on several grounds. He holds a Special Degree in English with Sinhala as his subsidiary subject. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in International Relations in addition to being a Press Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge. On the other hand, Ockersz’s textual handling exhibits the profound grasp of Biblical scholarship. Unlike most print-medium journalists whose craft is confined to newspapers, Ockersz has developed a halo beyond the ‘senior journalist’ penumbra, as a literary critic, political analyst and, above all, poet.

Poetic justice

Which is what makes us work this brief essay. The April 21st Consensus, the third collection of poetry by Lynn Ockersz, exposes us to a less spoken domain: poetical manipulation of social issues. When malfunction of social norms meets with no poetic justice, it at least calls for a poetical manipulation. Lynn Ockersz does exactly that.

In his enlightening introduction to The Mid-Century: English Poetry 1940-60, David Wright notes the following:

Poetry is not entertainment but is meant for enjoyment. There are many reasons why people write poetry but only one good reason why they should read it. Enjoyment and entertainment are distinct affairs and those conditioned only to the latter may never experience the former.

Wright deals with Mid-Century English poetry, an era that marked the transition from mere romance to more serious social issues. In the general context, poetry is heavily romanticised taking its reader to a utopian stratosphere. However, the evolution of poetry meant that both poets and readers came to an unspoken consensus: poetry is meant for entertainment too. There is more to this term than what we experience in the showbiz. In The Sociology of Entertainment Professor Robert A Stebbins defines entertainment: to provide public with something enjoyable, or pleasurable, that holds their attention for the period of time. Holding our attention for a period of time is what matters in our connection with prose and poetry. That’s where Ockersz excels. The April 21st Consensus epitomises that excellence.

Periscopic view

Albeit a flimsy volume of 121 pages, it grabs our time more than it does in reading a 500-page novel. Each page holds our attention arrested for a while before moving on to the next. It is not the words that we are called upon to enjoy and entertain. It is the concepts that lie beneath that compel us to shut our eyes in communion with Ockersz.

In the very first poem, Ockersz refers to the Holy Bible: Love They Neighbour as Thine own self. He complements the oft-quoted passage with his periscopic view of politicians and other architects of social disorder. That poem opens up to the aisle of sublime and terrible realities of contemporary society.

Ockersz hardly needs introduction among the readers of English newspapers. He has stirred our soul with awe-inspiring editorials and opinions about global politics. If his prose reads quite ambitious (not ambiguous in the least) and distinguished, the very poetry collection before us shows how powerfully lyrical and poignant he is as a poet.

Politicians can never be poets. The otherwise is not possible too. Poets can put on the philosopher’s robes. They have the right capacity to lay out standards upon which a proper social framework can be implemented. Plato authored The Republic emphasising a just society, but could never rule. Lenin and Marx birthed a generation of thinkers, but not politicians. Marxism is still the favourite subject among academics and scholars, but not the politicians who have to trouble themselves with more mundane matters. Therefore – unfortunately, rather – politicians can never wrap themselves in the robe of righteousness. That is the job of political scientists, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, ethnographers and so on who are engaged in a poetic adventure.

Humanity beyond

In Lynn Ockersz’s poetry, one sees a political scientist, philosopher, sociologist, anthropologist, and an ethnographer. He is a poet of a unique departure. Thus, Ockersz’ poetry cannot be read straightforwardly. They must be read with patience. The reader must have a certain command of allied literature as his writings often stand as an allusion to the Holy Bible. Of novel, short story and poetry, the last is the toughest medium to deal with. Everyone cannot just write poetry. Nor does everyone can read poetry. It demands, I repeat, patience.

Ockersz establishes a model society built on the lost truths of faraway cultural caveats. The most honest opinions cannot find a place in prose. They come in the form of poetry. Ockersz has employed poetry to express what he cannot do so in his opinion columns. He is the helmsman who looks at a faraway island with hope. He stands vigil beside us, piloting his poetry towards the still dark lines of humanity. He wants to enter that faraway island and expose us to the sight before the nightfall. Throughout 104 poems, we are made to experience his exploration of humanity beyond.

What most journalists and writers suffer from is perhaps the lack of a wholesome vocabulary to engineer a powerful expression. This is where Ockersz treads at ease.

If we are to follow up Wright’s trail, it is clear that what we need today is something even beyond entertainment. Something that leads us to the Frostian wisdom beginning in delight. Entertainment of the highest order which neither weakens nor slights the reader’s intelligence. Ockersz’s evocative and descriptive poetry is a key text in that context.

- Reviewed by Sachitra Mahendra