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Poetry as a Foreign Language
by Mike Ramsden
"...Not really sure I'll get much out of it,
Understand what's going on,"
I whined and vacillated.
I was assured he was big
(Though not in size)
Old, blind and from the capital.
So in I went with the rest of the faculty
To the biggest hall on campus,
Packed with more than I'd ever seen before
And when the applause started from the back
And advanced with him to the front,
It was not polite or respectful
But loud and from beyond the palms of hands,
And they were standing and clapping
The old blind poet right up to the stage
With videocams and flashlights on his face
And I knew I'd not seen the likes of this before,
And not only the intoning of the country's prayers
But the readings from the campus luminaries,
Strong declamatory stuff,
Speaking to the audience. You could
Tell this because they'd clap and cheer
Right in the middle of the poet's flow.
All this told me it was not like
My home, my country,
And when the old poet began...
But why go on?
Well, yes, I told myself,
A different tradition,
An oral society, the public
Gesture, their particular
Stage of development,
The revolution, nationhood.
The excuses flooded in.
Yes, I understood in the end.
This was not British.
This was not our language at all.