Poetry finds you when you are broken, insists on taking you into its fold, puts your pieces together and then you never leave.
It struck me when I was standing at the doorway of my home one July that the sunshine over the mussaenda was a rare shade of rose-gold and that the leaves under it were a luminous green. The street noises seemed to recede as if the stage had been taken over by some other troupe and sure enough, there was a sudden onset of activity. An excited squirrel ran up and down the guava tree, a few babblers screamed and the jackfruit tree came to life with bird cries. All because there was a long rat snake slithering leisurely across the sunlit ground. There had been stray tears on my cheek and I was a dam on the verge of a collapse but then the other world swung in and took over from me.
I was privy to nature’s poetry slam. I wanted nothing to capture it, not a camera, or a laptop nor pen and paper. A poem followed by several others swung its legs over the cacophony of humdrum routines and marched into me settling deep into waiting trenches filling me up with purpose and with immense joy. While steadily ploughing up the driest top soil and turning it over to the elements to ravage, it was changing me.
I remembered Stanley Kunitz’s translation of Akhmatova’s lines
“No foreign sky protected me,
no stranger’s wing shielded my face.
I stand as witness to the common lot,
survivor of that time, that place.”
Writing a poem is akin to exercising. To begin is difficult at times because it is easier to wallow in conceptual dramas and imaginary hammocks than to sit in one place and write or type. Think about the singular joy of munching on peanuts and reading fitness magazines on the couch compared to going running on a cold day.
Some poems are difficult to birth even while being exhilarating with senses functioning at heightened awareness and making one sore with the intensity of thought . Once begun, every thought zooms into the present; nature, politics and emotions collide, collaborate and confound the notions of what constitutes poetry. The end comes when the experience has gone through like a sword and untwisted all the overlapping images to give one’s vision a clarity that is brighter than the sunbathed green leaves of the mussaenda.
Winner of the T.S Elliot award 2012 Poet John Burnside said,“Poetry reminds us that lakes and mountains are more than items on a spreadsheet; when a dictatorship imprisons and tortures its citizens, people write poems because the rhythms of poetry and the way it uses language to celebrate and to honour, rather than to denigrate and abuse, is akin to the rhythms and attentiveness of justice. Central to this attentiveness is the key ingredient of poetry, the metaphor, which Hannah Arendt defined as “the means by which the oneness of the world is poetically brought about”. It’s that power to bring things together, to unify experience as “the music of what happens”, that the best poetry achieves.”
It also unifies the people reading it and the poets who write it because we search for affirmation, for reassurance that our feelings and experiences are shared by someone else somewhere and that we aren’t all alone though our pursuit of the game is almost always solitary.
While the visualized poem changes a lot after being handed over to language, the thing that is most changed at the end of the writing is me. I feel kindly and tolerant to all forms of obstacles and injustices that were hindering the poem till then, feeling mostly gratitude for the crash course on changing perception. If there is more indecision, more poems might be written.
As David Biespiel says”You become a poet when you navigate your poem’s labyrinths of mutability, not to a point of stasis, but to a point where your discoveries blossom into ecstasy, intoxication, even beatitude — or, to downplay that bit of grandiosity, into clarity, insight, judgment, understanding, private vision.”
And believe me language plays a mighty role here – give it all the vocabulary and range you can and the poem rushes through like a thing on fire. Don’t let anyone tell you that language doesn’t matter. It does. It does. It does. You wouldn’t want to be subjected to an operation if your doctor uses an rusty, blunt knife he found while swimming in the ocean. It is the same thing with poetry. Hone your weapons before you go to war. Because after that poem is written, you are healed of whatever ailed you. The better your poem, the better you feel. I have no complaints about life as long as I can write because there somewhere between the thought and the written word, lies my wetland, my wildlife reserve, my sanctuary.
Leaving you with Amiri Baraka’s lines from Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
“Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…
Things have come to that.”