As soon as I heard the words poetry the Indian artist had my attention. Amongst the "you look my stuff" jewellery beach traders, the "you want dolphin boat ride ma'am" tour guides and the rip off ayurvedic masseuses prowling the beaches of Goa, the offer of buying a genuine piece of someone's art certainly seemed like a refreshing respite. I looked over and smiled as he walked towards me, advertising his poems. "Anyone like to hear some poetry?" He asked. Yeah defo I thought to myself. He continued calling out as he approached my sun bed. I’m sitting up getting ready to give him my full attention, when suddenly I hear him say "I got every kind of poetry...I got love poetry...sex poetry...f*** poetry." He then added a whole other selection of vulgar poems he had just before stopping by my feet. Eeek!! I felt like someone had thrown up on me. Shocked, I asked him why he was saying that, like seriously dude…you have got to refrain from using that kind of filthy language! He responded that people want to hear it. Errr, not everyone, I informed him! He clearly thought I was mad...and off he went on his merry way, loudly continuing to advertise his vulgar poetry on the beach front.
The next day I see him again, as I'm walking past and there he is...calling out to people to buy his obscene poetry, using the same foul vocabulary as yesterday to arouse interest. Once again my ears were graced with his filthy sales pitch. I stopped and approached him. I asked him why he felt the need to use such obscene language to sell his art. I kindly informed him, that it was wrong of him to approach people with the assumption that this type of foul language was okay with them. He said “sorry maam, but I think you're the only person on this beach who's uncomfortable with it...people on the beach like this kind of talk. I said I doubted that given how many young families were on the beach. And then I added that even if the whole beach was accustomed to that type of profanity it didn't mean he needed to stoop that low just to suit what he thought people wanted to hear - surely he had more self respect than that. He shrugged his shoulders. I walked away shaking my head like an old granny.
The following day I'm chilling at a different beach further along and there he is again, walking towards me. Suddenly my heart goes out to him as I contemplate just how far he has to walk each day to share his art and earn a living. This time however, I hear him advertising his art without a single profanity clearly in consideration towards little old moi, and so as he approaches my bed he says “poetry...poetry... respectable poetry..." I smile at him, encouraged by the change, and he comes over, sits down on my sunbed and suddenly he apologies about yesterday. He tells me he wasn't able to receive what I was saying...because he was irritated about other stuff that had happened and so wasn't willing to listen to something that could potentially teach him something valuable. Wow, how humble. He explained that although he sort of understood where I was coming from he still didn’t see anything wrong in what he was doing. People liked to hear words like that he said. He explained that he believed he totally had self respect...but that he liked to shock people and gain their attention. He liked making people smile...and if people liked that kind of language then what was wrong with making people happy by using such vulgarities. He shared that when he made people laugh, it made him feel liked and accepted.
I told him that I understood, but just because everyone seemingly liked profanity it didn't make it okay. He could still choose to be wholesome if he wanted to - instead of lowering his moral standards in order to gain the approval of mere strangers - who within a fleeting second of hearing his "shockingly" obscene sales pitch were most likely to completely forget about him. Therefore was the shock tactic really worth it? I made the statement that surely his poetry was good enough by itself, without it needing to be reduced to a bunch of shocking profanities in order to be accepted. He quietly nodded and then said "no one will be interested in hearing my stuff if I don't sell it this way. The vulgarities are what attract people's attention."
My heart grieved at the deception that held him hostage. Desperately wanting to make him understand it wasn’t his profanity that had aroused my interest – it was his art form, I said “geezer...you had me at poetry!" I added that there are other people like me who want to hear and read and experience wholesome art. I advised him not to throw his pearls at swines and tried to convince him that he didn't need to lower the tone of his art for the sake of likeability or to generate sales. Be true to your art - surely if people are only buying your poetry because they want to read the F word and not because they dig your gift then hey they ain't worth selling to. I implored him not to sell out. Finally I gave him an example of when I was doing Stand Up Comedy - I had a choice. I could use the usual sexually oriented, self demeaning, cursing, x-rated, material in my act or I could work much harder in order to stay true to myself and use only clean, wholesome material on stage. I chose the latter and as challenging as it may have been I didn't sell out to suit the masses. I suggested he did the same. We actually had a great convo. I shared how vulgar I too had been before having my mind renewed as a Christian. He was intrigued and asked me loads of questions about my faith and said what I'd shared definitely made sense. Before leaving he promised he'd read some of Jesus' words to get some wisdom. Over the next few days whenever I would see him on the beach he would call me "poetry lady" and after a brief chat he would walk much further away before tentatively unleashing his shocking sales pitch.
Imagine my joy though, when a few days later he comes to me and tells me he has totally reassessed his “sales pitch” after being told the same thing by several other people on the beach. He tells me he now says...”I write all kinds of poetry…funny poetry…love poetry…naughty poetry”. I smile, totally pleased with the turnaround...grateful for his renewed mind. He thanks me for helping him understand a better way. Haha! So, it's with a real sense of appreciation that I ask him to share some of his poetry with me on the final day of my holiday. He happily shares all his clean stuff with me and when I select his Mandela Poem to buy asking him how much to pay him he tells me he couldn’t ask me for payment given that I had already given him something so valuable. Wow. How crazy mad encouraging. Yet I do pay him, for I wanted to bless him…and I wanted to honour him for keeping it clean. I was totally blessed too, for I believe our conversations were a turning in the tide for this young artist…and for me personally I loved seeing his outlook transform into a positive, wholesome view that would certainly bear good fruit in his life.
As I pondered my encounters with him, I was all too aware that we all have similar sorts of decisions to make time and time again...whether as artists or as people in general. Each day we too are faced with various choices where we will need to decide if we will be people pleasers or God pleasers...if we will choose to stand set apart, steadfast upon our convictions or if we will succumb to dancing to the drumbeat of the masses, simply to fit in...simply to be accepted...simply to be popular.
You know I think of this poet on the beach…who was so willing to lower his standards in order to be acknowledged…in fact he had become so desensitised to that which is vulgar that he hadn’t even realised how foul it was…he had just assumed that because it was what everybody wanted it was okay…and so he was ready to provide it. He was ready to be obscene because it made him attractive…it drew people to him...it caused people to laugh with him...and for a moment...though short lived...He felt he was accepted. His art was accepted. His talent was accepted. Likewise I think as creatives we can mould ourselves or our art to suit the masses…we provide what we think people want to see...or hear…or read. We think if we give people exactly what they want then they will accept us or accept our creativity...or they will affirm us...yet the truth is that whatever we use to attract someone is the very thing we will need to keep using in order to sustain their interest. Not just with our art but with everything in life…
Therefore I reckon it's always better to keep it real...that way those that hang around you do so because they know and love the real you...or those that invest in your creativity do so because it’s a genuine reflection of who you are, not a mirage that's been created just to fit in…and those that become a fan of your work do so out of genuine affection and approval of what you carry not because you misled them or because you have compromised. It’s a question we must be willing to ask ourselves…as artists what are we willing to compromise for the sake of acceptance? Similarly, as Christians what are we willing to compromise in order to stay cool, to avoid persecution or to be accepted by this world…a world which is ultimately fading away? See because the truth is that we don’t need to compromise at all. Because we have been accepted just as we are, in fact we have been accepted warts and all, in our very worst condition. We don’t have to change our personality, our art, our gift or our faith to fit in or to get anyone to accept us because we are already fully irrevocably accepted as we are. And what we all carry is unique and beautiful and does not need to adapt to make people like us. We are anointed to be successful in our God given destinies whether people support us or not.
Yet as we continue to grow in our faith and at the same time discover our callings and the God given impact that we can have upon our families, our society, and upon our generation, we will find ourselves time and time again faced with the challenge of doing things the way the world does or doing things Kingdom style. And as hard and as at times lonely as it may be to stand for all that is noble, pure, true, holy, praiseworthy and lovely…without compromise…without shame, with conviction - it is so worth it, because the more we stand up for what’s right…what’s truly right the more we will empower change. And though we may at times be in the minority, lives will surely be impacted one at a time...if only we determine that, one single voice, as hushed and overlooked as it may often seem in the intense clamour of this world…can indeed make a difference. x