It is easier and faster to write since the tools needed are, on the one hand subjective, and on the other, simple objects like a pen, paper, almost any rudimentary thing with a scratching tip with which to make marks. This is why prisoners who take to dealing with their experience automatically choose writing as the form to express it in. Writing, which some Eurocentric scholars like Popper and Walter Ong, have rightly but exaggeratedly, credited with being the reason for technological advancements, is originally a medium of self-study, introspection, internal dialogue with the psyche, and intrinsic meditation and a form of and for emotional release.
This introspection is a matter of course, since writing is preceded by reading, that is, the reading of our own thoughts before they can take on the permanence of ink or print. As the alphabet displaced orality as a major repository of experience, writing became a more permanent aid to memory according to Walter Ong in “Orality and Literacy”; as such recourse to writing gives release while at the same time records stages in personal psychic development and healing processes, which become examples and an aid to the future reader. The equanimity derived from writing is reflected in Roger Chartier’s discussion of “the practical impacts of writing”–within an essay of the same title–in the move from the public to the private sphere in England and the USA of the early modern to the modern period. He also insinuates the libratory power bestowed by writing–through reading.
As an example it is then understandable that political prisoners, from Antonio Gramsci to Wole Soyinka, Jack Mapanje or Nelson Mandela easily took to writing to empower self and also to deal with private rumination, and the dangers of total mental breakdown. Even career criminals and petty thieves do sometimes take to writing as a process of penance and self-correction and -elevation. Prison is enforced solitude and in this forced removal from the public sphere, there is a double principle at work: the privacy imposed on the individual by the state and the natural meandering of private thoughts, which leads to introspection, and a need to quieten such mental agitations through writing.
Seamus Heaney in The government of the Tongue, describes such an act of introspection, self-dialogue and release in the figure of Jesus writing with a stick in the sand, while being interpellated by the Pharisees and Sadducees, those eternal aggressive insects, forever biting with their spiteful proboscis. To each of their hostile queries, Jesus Christ described figures in the sand, with a stick, preoccupied by his ‘writing’ in full meditation before responding. There were subjective mental or inspirational processes at work before he carefully replied his interlocutors from within an inner inspired resolution.
Amatoritsero Ede is a peripatetic, internationally award-winning poet and ex-Hindu monk born in Nigeria. He has been a Book Editor, was Editor-in-Chief of Sentinel Online Poetry Journal from 2005-2007, and Writer-in-Residence at Carleton University’s English Department from 2005-2006, where he is now a Doctoral Candidate.
The whales leap, the sport of giants.
Flippers, huge tails smacking water,
joyful, cutting across the bay.
The play on the title of Joseph Brodsky’s essay, “Footnote to a Poem”, is deliberate.
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