Concerning Poetry

Performing at an open mic evening hosted by ‘InkStation’ in Navi Mumbai

I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare; my business is to create.”

A well-known English poet once wrote this. It holds as true in 2017 as it did, back when it was written, which was, a couple of centuries ago. That poet was William Blake. But could anyone argue that this might not be said by, and of, any poet today?

As poets, we may find inspiration in so many things around us — experiences, memories, books, movies, streets, strangers and undoubtedly, the works of fellow-poets everywhere. However, drawing inspiration from an outside source requires collaboration with what it already within oneself. The ‘idea’ that lies at the core of every poem, however simple or even simplistic it might be, stems from an arduous process of construction; creation, then, is labour. It is hard and it is gritty, and deserves a second reading, even a third or a fourth, and so on. It does not come, readymade or manufactured on the basis of a preset algorithm that the hands or tongues, as automata, churn out on a factory line.

I read somewhere, recently, that poetry does not write itself. Truer words have never been written. No, they do not! It takes blood, sweat, tears and toil to shape the clay that words are, into something meaningful. Something aesthetic, of intrinsic value and outer beauty. This is not visible to most. I recently heard someone dismiss the Haiku form as a ‘shortcut’ and a cop-out. Meaning what, ‘real’ poets do not or should not write Haikus, or that it’s considered cheating? I respectfully disagree. It takes just as much effort to write a Haiku as it might, a poem in any other form. This is often invisible to many, and while I understand where this perceived invisibility (pun intended) comes from, I find myself disturbed by it.

So, we come to the divide in the very perception of poetry as art. As a medium, anyone can use it for any purpose. Want to tell a story? Do it through a poem. Want to protest against an outdated societal norm? Craft the sharpest weapons through poems. Feeling low and just want to vent? Poetry to the rescue. Sadly, over time, poetry has accrued a strange identity as belonging to the domain of ‘intellectuals’. There’s apparently a uniform that goes with this identity — pick and choose from a range of jholas, scarves, loafers, bracelets, bandanas…the variety is endless. I find myself amused whenever I read at an open mic, or even as a featured poet, and individuals present, very often poets themselves, come up to me and ask me why I’m dressed in corporate attire and not like a ‘normal’ poet. I am so sorry that I’ve offended your notions of what a poet is supposed to look like, but I can’t really help it, given that I usually make it to these events after nine hours of a job with a corporate firm. Then, there’s the other usual question — why do your poems, when you perform them, sound less like poetry and more like conversations? Again, I offer my apologies and regretfully inform you that I don’t understand, at all, what poetry should sound like when performed. A lot of my poetry is visceral; it comes from my gut. And the insides of my gut are categorically not pretty. I don’t believe there is a template for how a poet should appear or how their poems should be read or performed, not one bit.

The way I see it, poetry is the farthest thing from being elite. It cannot ‘belong’ to the domain of intellectuals and is definitively not exclusivist. Yes, it has in so many instances over time, been co-opted by the literary and intellectual elite. To me, this is the worst form of appropriation — taking beauty and grace and moulding these into unrecognisable abstracts — repurposing them to serve a most undemocratic purpose. Poetry, to me, has always been special. It’s one of the things that gives meaning to my life, and I’ll forever be grateful to be a part of its community. So, I consider it my responsibility to translate this bond into something that is accessible to society at large. This is why I want to create poetry that is democratic in its availability and outreach, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll say, is simple without being simplistic. I immensely value those who read and listen to my words, both, fellow-poets and otherwise. If my poetry is the beginning of a circle I draw, my audience is where that circle finds completion.