Guest Poet Blog: Inua Ellams’ ‘On Biting’

‘Biting’ is a slang word for ‘Copying’. As in: ‘Stop, Bitiing My Lyrics, Bruv’. That’s what they say ‘On Road’. ‘On Road’ refers to city streets. I speak as if it’s a world I’m part of but in reality, I’m half Steve Urkel {} half Bruce Banner {} and the only part of me that transforms to the incredible, is daydreamed: I as the Nigerian Hulk smashing through Ghanaian cities. Besides that, I’m rooted firmly to the squalid soils of Earth. Here, there is a saying – nothing is new under the sun. It is the very same of writing, of ideas. I believe that whatever is, has been and will be. All that changes is our arrangement of those ideas, how we remix them, how they are coloured by our individual life experiences.
In classic Persian poetry, on one side of this ‘new ideas’ spectrum, poets never bothered with trying to be original with imagery. They’d bite from each other; purposely use the same ones over and again. The sport was on how to use them in the best order. They weren’t interested in innovation / being different / outdoing each other (one could argue such thought originate from western capitalist ideals) rather, they wanted to be each other, Better. On the opposite end of the ‘biting spectrum’ are those who only skim off the iceberg tips of the very tops of ideas and even then, do so painfully. Instead, they constantly seek new ideas each time / refusing to write or publish otherwise / thinking themselves failures. This I think is a form of writer’s block, a cause of inactivity and the cause of death of many promising careers.
I sit somewhere close to the Persian Poets, I bite nasty, wild, like a feral piranha. On crack. Everything, anything, tweets, overheard phone-calls, lines from other poems, conversations, novels, philosophers, TED, my own mother, and yes, other poets. I bite and change very important things that’ll mean I write entirely different, yet, essentially the same thing. Sometimes, I bite entire poems. Here’s an example: Billy Collins wrote a gorgeous poem called ‘Directions’ {} about leaving a house and going for a walk in the woods. I wrote a poem called ‘Directions’ about leaving a flat and going for a walk in the city {}. My poem has identical twists and turns taken directly from his. It has the same number of lines, most lines have the same number of words, same stanza length and the same emotional lift at the end. Yet it is an entirely different poem that speaks to an entirely different generation and is of an entirely different experience. Wherever the poem is published, I include just below the title “After Billy Collins”, I try to give credit where it’s due.
So, in closing, whenever next you are twiddle-thumbing, have a commission, don’t know what to write, flick through a book, choose what you like. Ask yourself: this one poem by – insert writer – is set in – insert location – But, what if it happened in my kitchen, and my mother was the one in the first line? What if they’d played my fave dutty wine song in the background instead of – insert music – What if the – insert age – year old man was my five year old sister? What if? What if? What if?
Now, write.
p.s. (Here’s the sales pitch): Directions is from my new collection of poems: Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stats. Why don’t you buy one? It is 4 quid here  nd £3.70 from Amazon

About idehen

Poet, Frontman to alt hip hop band Benin City. Founder of Poem inbetween People. Co Founder of Spoken word/music night Poejazzi. Workshopper. Lover of all things horror/scifi/fantasy/tech related. Host. Semi bad man.
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