BWS 09.05.18: Ralph Kolewe

RKolewe - 2017-12-25

Ralph Kolewe lives in Toronto, where he shares a house with a cat named Charlotte. He has published two books of poetry, Afterletters (Book*hug 2014) and Inspecting Nostalgia (Talon Books 2017).


A few years ago I wrote a sequence of poems relating to the Great Financial Crisis. “A tweet is not direct action” one of those poems said. (There was a time when I was optimistic about the Internet, but that was back in 1995.) More recently I’ve been thinking about W.H. Auden’s  statement that “poetry makes nothing happen,” which isn’t entirely about politics. And I’ve been thinking about those poems we’ve all read (or even written) expressing the great pain and suffering of the poet and/or their people in this less than perfect world. In consequence, too often I find myself feeling like a grumpy old man. This piece (nothing like a manifesto) comes out of all that.

699 words including repetitions but not enough

Repetition is the basic poem because saying it again some things have to be repeated.

Structures of repetition rhythm and rhyme sonnet villanelle and sestina etc pattern and symmetry but the world oh the world isn’t that.

Thought isn’t either. Broken like the world but again and again. Even if you only have one idea like the world.

I’m not the first to say something like this I’m repeating. Trauma and rage pain and grief again and again even if repeated is not a poem even if yours or mine even if I’m writing from a position of privilege which I am even if no one is listening because who listens to a poem even written from a position of privilege or not even if this is not a poem it’s not. I won’t say what a poem is it doesn’t matter I don’t know. But those things and other things may be the occasion of a poem a place to start a poem and start again and again.

And repeat yourself and the world. Maybe every line should always begin and end and.

Also those things villanelle etc are pretty and pretty old-fashioned aren’t they forms should be shiny shouldn’t they shiny new fresh like a pop song wrapped in bright plastic that winds up in the sea belly of a whale like Jonah how old-fashioned though maybe you recognize Jonah living in the postcolonial world as we all do still submerged in the deep European now. The story’s kind of apropos maybe prophet who didn’t want to deliver his message bad idea but make it new Ezra Pound said in the 20th century the perfect fascist 20th century although genocide had been invented some time previous to that also liberty equality fraternity or was it slavery hierarchy patriarchy none of which are a poem but you know that or at least might believe it but really are you sure.

Who says forms should be shiny new etc anyway. Yes yes “it is difficult / to get the news from poems” maybe that’s a good thing I often think so.

Repetition can be a kind of error correction more likely the signal will get through the noise say again say again and again. And some things have to be repeated and again.

And maybe every poem is written from a position of privilege really you had 10 minutes to write a sonnet you could have ended capitalism or at least undermined the neoliberal new world order it’s not that new no.

Sometimes I am such a nihilist such a cynic it’s a luxury artisanal authentic right someone once said I had no right to speak critically of the status quo because I spoke from a position of privilege a beneficiary of the status quo which made me wonder it might be better to say nothing just shut the fuck up you know like Wittgenstein said “what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence” that’s the general idea although Wittgenstein was talking about something else. I’m not sure. A sestina maybe here I don’t write sestinas. And make room for other voices but who’s listening really
who’s listening.

And again like pain and it is real pain also and the root of pain injustice and hate and greed even if repeated is not a poem but again maybe the occasion of a poem. Just saying isn’t a poem so what’s a poem really I don’t know I’m being honest here. I am coming dangerously close and why is it dangerous I know to saying art for art’s sake poem for poem’s sake what a luxury here is a wonderfully decorated tall cake all spun sugar so beautiful right too bad you can’t have a slice.

Also the facts are not a poem and beauty what isn’t a poem either. Writing isn’t doing even tweeting. Neither is reading and will reading matter probably not neither a poem.

I should write this over rewrite it again read it again anyway.

I said at the beginning some things have to be repeated and again no ending that. You can start over maybe and a poem or do something.


Ralph Kolewe visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Tyler Pennock, Kaleigh Trace, Karen Lee, and guest speaker Maya Bedward who will tell us about, “Writing a Successful Grant Application.”




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