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Cherbo Geeplay and Golden Bough of Liberian Poetry


By Dag Walker

As Liberia rose from the ashes of war, so too have so many Liberian writers risen to create a new paradigm of literature for the world. The words and visions of Africa rise up to give the world a new path to run, to carry the baton for those who come later, too. An explosion of poetry, memoir, history, of painting and music and dance, architecture, it comes, from my position as a viewer far away, from Liberia. From so much suffering now comes the flowering of humanness. The hard birth of new greatness in the world.

When I read the chit-chat of computer dialogues, the chatter of Twitter, mere the anarchy loosed upon the world, I too see the Second Coming, a bitter hell it is. But, like Aeneas with the Golden Bough, life goes on to the next stage. poets writing the accounts of life’s daily doings, profits and losses together, the store of humanity. Arnold rejected the Chaos of the modern, and we embrace it, heedless of the warning, paying no attention to the best thoughts of those who came before us, likely to ignore the best thoughts of those among us now. African poets, such as  Cherbo Geeplay, and writers from Africa, whose words pour out of lives far from the mountains here in South America, give hope to those exiled in this madness of Modernity. The road of life goes on, and the poetry of the future lights us in the soul. The old among us may rejoice in knowing that, “An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick unless soul claps its hands and sing, and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress.” Thanks to the future of poetry and art.

I’m seriously old now, having turned 68 recently. At some point, I will pass on the baton in this race through existence to those younger than I, as they in turn will pass it to those to come. Our baton is the pen. We chose to pick it up and run to our end, and we can choose to drop it– if we can’t make it down the road to whatever end we have. It’s voluntary. No one demands of us that we write. It’s a calling from the Beyond, and some of us listen and heed it. “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

One of my favorite writers is Matthew Arnold, his book, Culture, and Anarchy (1869). He writes there about “the best that has been thought and said,” about poetry and literature as the salvation of people caught in the anarchy of life without values in their own time and in their own lives. Writing, the best thought and said, is the gift given to humanity from the Eternal, delivered through the pens of writers (and painters and musicians and architects….) We, thus, are not to be vain but to be humble. Thank God we have this mission.

No one poet has all the answers or all the poetry the world needs; it is for the collected artists of the time to create a whole work, some of which is brilliant and some of which is dark to give contrast to the light, notes to set between the pauses. What a great thing it is to be part of the grandness of life, even if we sell one book in a month. We create a scene in which books can rest on books, our own, perhaps, giving context to those who do better. One lives, if we are lucky, inspiring others to greater heights. And thank God for our place at the bottom of the pile, our foundation upon which others rest in glory.

A man who most people feared and loathed turns out to be a petty and vain pretender who is only frightening when he confronts women and children. Miss Greene writes of Davis that "He was a good-looking man, straight, with a great black pointed beard; unfortunately, he had too many gold teeth, so that his flashing smile lost a good deal of its charm. (P161.) She writes that he was "clever, he was efficient, he was brave. ... Mention of the Kru war and his part in it, tears nearly came to his eyes." Nearly, but not really. "After speaking of his great love of children and demanding more whiskey, he spoke of Liberia's great attractions."
Dag Walker, the author

Forty years ago I looked at the world from afar, to my cousins in West Central Africa, in Liberia, and I despaired for our own, our people cast off from the nation and left to fester in horror as America stood by and didn’t watch. I saw no hope amidst the horror of the war in Liberia, a nation we created initially, and abandoned as if one can forget one’s own. I didn’t forget, and will I. Grown and independent, yes, a new and whole life as a nation, but still our family. Do we owe? Not so much, I think, beyond recognition of our common cause, to be free. I am over-familiar with the horrors, and now, forty years later, I am also familiar with the mounting glory of Liberia’s rise from hell, the golden bough of art having brought the nation to the foot of the good, while so much of what we in America loved has slipped down to the depths. Today, it is the poets and writers of Liberia who rise to the heights.

About the Author: Dag W. Walker is an American writer currently residing in Quito, Ecuador.

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