“A cup of coffee, a poetry book, a rain-washed evening, and you’re all set for that perfect photo frame of the intellectual Bong,” said my friend over a weekend as I visited her suburban apartment after a usual week of hardcore reality to spend an evening of poetry, because when “the world is too much with us,” poetry is the only “thing of beauty” to give us “joy forever.”
As she continued musing, I looked through the closed shutters standing like transparent sheets between us and the incessant downpour outside, randomly changing its direction and writing in a spontaneous flow some unfathomable poetry of the evening. Words of poets from the age of antiquity, I grew up reading, together with the sounds of the sky sculpted out of a moist evening an image of a reader sipping like hungry tides the passionate flow of thoughts and ideas from an old anthology.
“Enough of dead old poets,” she said. Fair enough, I thought. Old poets are classic reads – timeless and evergreen with smooth curves of diction and thought, an ideal companion for a cup of summer tea. But the new age poets, with their fresh thoughts and ideas, experimental style and treatment, and uninhibited fearless flow of expression, are the unputdownable anthology to pair with a cup of instant coffee. The old poets remind us of the golden ol’ days we all so want to relive; the new poets swarm our mind with exciting waves we so want to get carried away by to some unseen, never-thought-of-before land of future as, just like them, we too feel beaten by the present age.
If literature, with all its variegated genres, is the body writers create as a reflection of the society, age and people, poetry is the very soul lying beneath with hoards of pearls waiting to be explored layer after layer. With the new poets of this “new age,” the exploration only gets more exciting as the layers are made of the intricate and convoluted existential experience so characteristic of the 21st century. As one reads through their poetry, images of oppression, violence, social injustice, political charades, religious bigotry, and cultural double standards get unmistakably noticed.
Among women poets, Meena Kandasamy, the Chennai-based poet whose poetry deals with caste issues and gender discrimination, is the collective voice of the oppressed youth living in the fringes. Being a Dalit herself, she writes about the political exploits, social and cultural discrimination and oppression against the Dalit community. A rebel through poetry, she is celebrated by the youth; an activist of lyrical words, her poetry creates a stir among the deeply rooted patriarchal consciousness. Celebrated or questioned, her strong voice of dissent and resistance is something this country needs more in the present confounding status quo.
The budding woman voice with its young vigor and energy finds its expression in the writings of Harnidh Kaur, whose writing career started with casual Facebook Notes. She soon took her poems, charting the mind and thoughts of a feminist activist, to blogging. Her subjects are varied; from the Sikh massacre of 1984 to women empowerment, she digs up both old wounds and new conflicts pushed under the mattress.
Akhil Katyal, another daring voice, speaks about what the majority of the country prefers to remain silent about – Kashmir. He came to prominence through his poems on Kashmir with its fire and ice. His poetry has the tone of a critic whose sharp and scrutinizing eyes do not spare anything within its purview. His poems are a critique of politics, people, social relationships and the government. Almost every issue that storms the country finds expression in his writing, be it activism of LGBTQ rights for equality or the assassination of a journalist and the suppression of voices trying to speak. These themes, with highly political undertones, are treated by him with a choice of words and style that young India would find very much relatable.
Dissent and rebellion are not the only voices speaking in poesy. The new age poetic voice is diverse and innovative. Intellectual romance, spiritual awakening, images of longing of modern humanity, trapped inside the invisible circle of loneliness and social networking, seeking ever elusive freedom – these subtle themes are widely jotted down by the millennial poets. It is reminiscent of the literary history of the 19th century Romantics urging and asking the then humanity to go back to Nature to find peace and liberation from the exploits of the Industrial Revolution, social oppression, and the frets of urbanization. Their unique style and the mediums they use to express themselves keep a reader interested for more. The social network for them becomes the playground for a creative soul seeking connection with minds searching for meaning, expression, and probably answers in this unintelligible world.
Rupi Kaur, an Indian-born Canadian poet and performer, reached millions through social media – Instagram and Facebook. Her short and easy poems capture the little feelings like heartbreak, moments of abuse and love, which are both personal and universal. Her Instapoetry is exactly what this on-the-go generation relates to and connects with easily. All her poems, written exclusively in lowercase words, reflect her worldview of equality. She adds simple, unelaborate sketches with her poems to form a connection with the reader more effectively. Her visual poetry, consisting of images with menstrual blood to depict and critique the taboos associated with menstruation, swept the Internet, drawing both accolades and criticism. Her works are meant and intended to be an experience. The words might soothe one, or the visuals might hit one hard like steel, but like a poet said, sometimes even steel melts when it confronts the grief, and sometimes a sharp knife is not enough to kill the beast!
For Tishani Doshi, poetry is all about experience, expression, and transformation. Poetry is, in her words, a mysterious journey which starts at some point and then takes an entirely different turn on the road – a turn which the poet never expected. A feeling of spiritual awakening is reflected in her poetry, which is a journey into the mystic and mysterious land. The longing for finding the self or the other through travel and search is characteristic of her themes. She writes about love, self-illumination, and identity across border, love and separation, mixing them with her personal experiences in the bowl of poetry.
Personal feelings are always a soothing read, because as readers, we connect more with personal feelings, dreams, and aspirations. Sonnet Mondal, the young “weaver of marvelous words,” is the “bard of India” who weaves beautiful patchworks of personal feelings associated with love and loss, hope and longing, the nostalgia for the gone past, and the savoring of the present. His poems keep a reader busy time-travelling between the past and present, with the melodious softness of his words transporting a mind to some otherworldly realm. Writing in somewhat the same vein is Nabanita Kanungo, whose poetry is like a collection of paintings which narrates feelings of longing and belonging. Her poems beautifully capture the cloud-capped, scenic landscapes of Shillong. The lush green beauty of the North East reveals her casket of nostalgia through the keys of Kanungo’s words. The memories we all keep so close and safe within us emerge in her poems like bright stars of a crystal night.
These writers, through their candid poems of personal feelings, emotions, dreams, and setbacks, form a comfortable bridge between the writer and the reader. By virtue of their contemporary style and openness, they offer the readers two-way tickets which take the latter deep into the psyche of the poet and then back to their own personal experiences, and all the while, the journey back and forth is comfy and relatable. Arjun Rajendran, for example, makes his poems the melting pot of pop culture and poetic art. Characters from comics, phantom cigarettes, vegetables – his range touches on the varied chords and strings of the pop culture our life is made of and surrounded by. It is as if he builds a lucid dream out of the images and stories we all grow up with and makes us live through them.
Poetry is read between the lines, and some poets write in a state of in-between! Arundhathi Subramaniam, the most prominent of female poets in India, finds the discomfort of the in-between inspiring and fairly creative. Traversing between the familiar and the unfamiliar, she explores themes of identity and ‘unbelonging,’ love and betrayal, vulnerability, and uncertainty. Her poems form an intimacy with the reader, which is the vital and foremost requirement for reading poetry.
Poetry is an art which has the power of transporting both the writer and the reader to a realm where trust and surrender is the key to survival for both. A poem not only has the voice of the one who writes, but also the voice of the one who thinks – thought and words conflict with each other, suppress, and overlap with each other. And finally, through the readers, a poem assumes millions of other voices – conflicting and overlapping. Sometimes, the voice of the poet submerges that of the reader, and sometimes, the reader’s voice adds a dimension to that of the poet’s. As a poet writes and gives expression to thoughts, the self becomes visible through words; as a reader reads, the search for the self dives deep into the same words to emerge in united, yet uniquely individual forms of the writer and the reader. This magical bond between the creator and the reader can be summed up perfectly in the words of Tishani Doshi –
“It’s that old idea of drowning in another to find the self.”