By Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
I read a very beautiful literary critical review in which the author, a scholar I truly respect said that I am “the most renowned African woman poet in the world today,” and you can disagree with him, I do not care, and this is not my point here. I am glad he thinks so, and I am honored he wrote that. But here is my point. If I am going to be the poet that I want to be before I die someday, I will not be happy, will not believe I have achieved anything, will not believe this statement if I do not leave behind at least two other Liberian poets who can write as well as I write or even better than me. I say this because I have been really disappointed that for the last year I have been trying to put together Liberian poets’ works for a poetry project a good friend of mine and I are working on to promote Liberian poetry.
My calls have yielded very little poetry so far or response. And the worst part is that some of those who would be great poets do not want to take criticism or even learn from anyone, and you can blow up with anger all you want, I don’t care.
In my frustration, I called a friend of mine who edited a Liberian literary magazine for years, and she said, “You girl, good luck if you find any.” Now, you can tell me that you are a poet all you want, but if you have not allowed your work to be examined, critiqued through the eyes of those who really know poetry, and have let only your friends tell you that you are a great Liberian poet, you are wasting your time.
Now, this is what I am planning to do to change this. When I am fully recovered and when Liberia is back to normal again, instead of conducting one day workshops in Monrovia as I did in the past, I will look for money to conduct complete three to four week creative writing classes each year with those younger poets who were so eager to learn when I was with them. We need to teach poetry and fiction workshops to nurture the talents we have, to teach these talented youth to understand that creative art/ poetry /fiction is a serious business. A nation that cannot produce its own literature and art is a lost nation. And we can do this without any corrupt politics.
Or, I’ll do it the old fashion way, guys. I will go into Liberia, find 2-3 young poets who have a burning desire to learn how to write poetry, have the talent, and I will work with them, tutoring them the way I do my regular creative writing students, and if they love what I do, I will follow them for years until I see them published well.
It is possible, but you can only work with those who are humble, have the desire, talent, and respect you enough to let you nurture them. I am just sick of mediocre poets who boast of being writers and are too stuck up to grow as poets, whether they are Liberians or not, and they are many.
I always wanted to put my country on the literary map, but I did not want to do it alone. And I am tired of trying various strategies that don’t work.
There is no support for writers in Liberia, no encouragement, and any efforts I have seen, have been frustrated by political minded people who call themselves writers and leaders of writers in Liberia.
They are writing something, but who reads anything that has not been able to be held to the fire? If Liberian literature should become anything among the large African literary world, there needs to be something drastic. And this is my final answer, and I am standing with it.
Dr. Jabbeh Wesely a recent cancer survivor and a renowned Liberian Poet is Associate Professor of English at Penn State.
Dr.Patricia Jabbeh Wesley pic: poetryforpeace.wordpress.com