Monday, January 31, 2011

You Tell Me: War of Forms

This post is based on observations. Observations only! And yes, I hate categorisations...there are many of them in the post...for the purpose of the post ;)

Plato would not welcome poets in his Republic "Having defined justice and established it as the greatest good, he banishes poets from his city. Poets, he claims, appeal to the basest part of the soul by imitating unjust inclinations. By encouraging us to indulge ignoble emotions in sympathy with the characters we hear about, poetry encourages us to indulge these emotions in life. Poetry, in sum, makes us unjust." 

Thus began the war between genres: poetry vs drama, prose vs poetry; Literature with the Big L (what some call literary literature) vs Literature with the small l (pulp literature, city lit, chick lit; whatever you call it!)

It is important to know that these genres are unique in themselves. The writer of the small L also is not lesser in value to the writer of the Big L...they are writing stories, maybe stories of the same people in different ways. All writing does not have to be about social issues like corruption, neo-colonialism, war, HIV/AIDS and all the deep dark things...I wonder if there is any such thing as lesser writing or higher writing? I wonder how those who make those generalisations arrive at their standards for what is high and what is low? Pray tell...

I also wonder why poets think that novelists are failed poets. Really? Have you read Toni Morrison and realise the sweet poetry than that which laces her words? Have you watched Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman and noticed the ]brilliant use of poetry? Don't you think that these genres intersect at different points? That many writers set out writing poetry and end up with fiction does not mean they are failed could only mean they are found a better love through a first love?

The truth is each writing is a different form with different requirements. Forget all the categorisations, I think the only one that exists is between good and bad writing.

And maybe Richard Rhodes puts it best in his book "How To Write": "Civilisation won't collapse if people write differently...many critics who disdain forms of writing they consider vulgar are simply intellectually provincial. Others cling to a romantic belief that writing is a kind of secular revelation. It may be, but the oracle speaks through many forms."

That seems to capture it! 

What say you?


  1. great post. interesting points raised.

  2. there is no lesser writing or higher writing...simply different writing forms, the question being does writing, like societies, have class categories/ class hierarchies? There seems a certain disdain by each sector for another. And I definitely disagree that writing with a Big L concentrates just on 'big dark issues'; there is much humour and enjoyment to be found;that becomes an example of disdainful stereotyping.

  3. I got the question of big L or small L a lot during my Nigerian book tour, so much unnecessary distinction I felt. In a country like ours, the bigger questions should be, Are we reading? and What will get more people reading?