Western Influence in Modern Poetry: Erasing Our Individuality?

Western influence in modern poetry
Western Influence in Poetry - Illustration by Joyita Faruk
 

The current world is a melting glass pot. Modern poetry is not exempt from its bubble-speckled grasp. Since the days of Romantic poets like Wordsworth, the English style of poetry has bled into other parts of the sphere. While that has been a good thing throughout the years, I dare to ask if we’re leaving behind more than we can gain. Is this barrage of western influence hampering our interest and practice of literature?

Common Themes in Western Modern Poetry

Modern poetry is an experiment with no control variables, twisting old conventions into new. These poems don’t rhyme – they challenge all forms of tradition. Words used in unfathomed contexts and line breaks in unexpected places are proof of this chaotic exploration.  

Contemporary poetry tends to be incredibly simplistic to coax the masses into trying poetry. It has its merits. But the capitalistic drive to gain traction has rendered poetry vulnerable to lazily spun Insta-poetry.

Where is The Space for Our Roots?

Rupi Kaur, one of the most condemned for using this simplistic approach, is an interesting case. To her credit, she has tried to incorporate her origins within English – letting go of capitalization and all punctuation but the period. It is the essence of the Gurmukhi script from Punjab.

Yet, where is the musicality of the Gurbanis? Where is the rhythmic rendition of Sufi poetry?

I’m not saying Rupi has to represent Punjab to the world. She was raised in Canada, so it’s certainly not her responsibility to be the face of an ethnicity. Moreover, I don’t know which specific Punjabi style of literature she had access to.

The point is that the incorporation seems a bit underwhelming when the rest of her technicality is lacking. Most of her work reeks strongly of pretty-sounding words strung together clumsily with not much meaning.

Finding Space For Ourselves Despite the Western Influence

The intermingling of literary styles can give birth to new beauty and revitalize the old. The Japanese tanka and haiku forms are brilliant examples of this. In the beginning, they could not connect the human experience. It was largely because Japanese writers at that time were reluctant to depart from their traditional literary language.

When the first translations of English poetry began to circulate within Japanese poetry circles, the merit of using modern tongue and varied structures in poems became clear. With tanka specifically, the western approach of leaving the meaning of symbolism up to the reader’s interpretation came in perfect accordance.

Due to their ambiguous natures, Japanese poems and Symbolists found their common ground in conveying the poet’s mood. As such, despite being a traditional form in its early life, the tanka found new roots in poets such as Yosano Akiko, Ishikawa Takuboku, and late 19th-century poet Masaoka Shiki. Today, it’s one of the most well-known structures originating from Japan, next to the haiku.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Thanks to Japanese literature, we can see that there’s a good way to go about this. We can still reinforce our roots despite western modernity taking up our own space.

If we think of Bangladesh, our roots contain rebellion and liberalism. Think of Nazrul, the Rebel Poet. Think of our songs of spirituality and higher love, metaphors with double and triple meanings.

My thoughts are in the future laden with languages intermingling into something more, rather than something less.

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