Who is on the plum tree?
Delighted to welcome Ampat Koshy onto the Plum Tree. He will be bringing Indian poets and their poetry to our attention. Thank you, Ampat for your great article!
To talk of poetry in 2013, divorced from knowledge of movements in literary criticism and theory that were important in the 20th century like Russian formalism, structuralism, reader response and reception theory or modernist approaches like close reading, seems silly to me. (They were all analytically poetry centred.) This is because poetry seems to have peaked as a dominant discourse around then, still having the power to sway the mind of millions unified, unified by print, tape, record, TV and radio; not to mention movies.
Poetry has waned in importance since the second ‘world’ war in the West, though there continues to be significant poets, poems, and even a few famous schools or movements. The arrival of globalism and glocalisms, with the thousand and one subtopias of cyberculture, has not exactly helped in making things any better. The truth is today’s poetry is made up of a billion or more voices, with good poets and good poems being a dime a dozen. An Eliot like figure to pontificate on seems a necessary evil, whether anyone listens or not.
I would suggest; therefore, some simple guidelines: seven-fold tasks for the reader in today’s troubled or untroubled – left to you to decide –technological, ideological times. What are they, if readers still exist, that is? The reader’s tasks have not changed. S/he should appreciate, interpret, participate, co-create, criticize, critique; but most of all enjoy. What kind of poetry do you think s/he would enjoy the most?
1. Poetry that is visual, mostly and sometimes, less often, auditory. “The medium is the massage.”
2. Short. “The medium is the message.”
3. Content can be subversive, tame, challenging, radical,free, dark, morbid etc., but not ever extreme. The majority rules. It’s a very populist world, right now and no one cares for fringe causes.
4. Form must be, similarly, not too complex, no one except those in academia has the time to bother about whether what you just wrote is a sestina or not or whether you ever heard of Arnaut Daniel.
This doesn’t mean that the poet compromises, but in a world that is finally waking up to the fact that not only the poor have to get richer but the rich have to get poorer, where in other words, everything is averaging out due to places like Facebook, great poetry too has to be fine, and more than a cut above the rest. The great poets still have to ‘slog,’ but the poem has to make instant contact or it will not be read again and again in today’s world where things move at the speed of light and attention spans are only for a second.
Coming as I do from India, or South India to be more precise, I was surprised to find FB a veritable ‘nest of singing birds’ from all over India. Many of them are fine poets, and many of them have written fine poems, many are being published, and some have come out, like I have, or are coming out with poetry collections or anthologies. Some receive awards or prizes. But the interesting thing is that their real success is, as far as I am concerned, not just decided- by- the- few- or- an- individual wins. Some of them are able to post a poem on FB without solicitation to methods like tagging posting it within the toughest, virtual marketplace or street on earth at present, and catch the eye of not only a fanatic poetry lover like me, but of readers at every level giving them something to take home, share, or remember them by.
I look here for the quality of a Dickens in the novel or a Shakespeare in drama or a Rumi or a Ghalib or a Wilde in poems or quotes, examples of the living power of literature as their works still circulate endlessly on these ‘walls’ in one form or the other. It was in searching for such voices that I came across new ones, totally different from one another and, yes, to a large extent unknown, like that of Prathap Kamath, Ravi Shankar, K V K Murthy, Reena Prasad, A.V Varghese, Vasudev Murthy, Bharat Ravikumar, Zeenath Ibrahim, Rukhaya MK, Maqsood Qureshi, Mary Annie and many, many others to be definitely named later, a veritable unconnected South Indian brigade of sorts and from the North Bina Biswas foremost, Atindriyo Chakraborty, Madhumita Ghosh, Yagni Payal, Prodipta Banerjee, Radha Debroy Raai, Archna Pant (Hindi), Naseer Ahmed Nasir (Urdu), Hisham Nazer, Minakshi Watts, Taseer Gujral, Sudarshana Ghosh, Minakshi Watts, Gopali Chakraborty Ghosh, Poulome Mitra Shaw, Gorakhnath Gangane, Payal Pasha and many, many others, again to be named later, perhaps.
Some of these poets are mature voices and some growing, but two have made even a hardened critic/cynic like me sit up and take notice, to start with. They are Atindriyo and Reena. Out of my longing that they find more recognition than they have I post here an excerpt from both of their FB work as examples of – (and this is today’s lesson for today’s wannabes who may be tomorrow’s greats, as I believe no one is a bad writer and it’s all about good or great writing and editing) – imagery and verbal pyrotechnics. They catch me where I live and will you too, if you are really impartial, unbiased lovers of poetry because of the first one’s passionate anguished brilliance and the second one’s consummate artistry.
Atindriyo Chakraborty: From “Of Leopards and Dementia” (in FB Notes) posted on Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 9:56am.
“I have seen mammoths drowning in twilight. I have seen phantoms of the moon gliding through neon-vacancy of midnight. I have seen faceless heads stuck on window-frames of buses that drag their own heavy corpses through the city that bleeds in soft concert-caked dreams of living and not-living. I have seen living and being alive in strong, throbbing coitus till they become one and push me beyond love and hate and beyond loving and hating. Sunsets behind the fort and bats come out of demon-trees. Sun rises from behind the fort and bats go back to demon trees. I have seen the withering away of souls. I have been to Babylon of dreams and seen woman riding seven-headed beast. Do I need to see more?” ( © to author.)
Now for Reena Prasad a.k.a Butterflies Oftime on FB:
“guilt over undone things
hangs by a thread
swaying in the fan’s summery breath
threatening to fall on, to crush, to maim
floating joys of idle dreams
lolling on a straw mat beneath” ( © to author.)
I could explicate as a critic why these voices matter but space forbids. These two examples show us what is undying about poetry, its depths, whether it is still a major discourse or not, whether published or not, whether it brings in money or not, whether read and enjoyed or not. It remains a captivating art in itself as long as in such short bursts of powerful imagery or passionate love of words it can hold our attention, the attention of the open and sensitive reader. One has to try to write like this, intensely or with consummate artistry, as if poetry is a matter of life and death, and it is, if at all one wants to be effective and remembered.
By Dr A.V.Koshy