Thursday, June 19, 2008

Poetry 101 or Poetry Basics

(Written as a review/critique of Sisters in Rhyme, an anthology published by sulekha; See here for details)

Required reading for the people who wish to be called poets (and poetry editors)

1) Poems by Shakespeare, Yeats, Keats, Wordsworth, Frost, Neruda, Tagore, Lorca, Billy Collins, Thomas Lux, Knott, TS Eliot, Pushkin, Akhmatova, Charles Simic, Ted Kooser, Rilke, Rumi, Kabir, Goethe, Ghalib, Mir, Dard, Dag, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Gulzar, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, DH lawrence, Thomas Hardy, Dinkar, Subramanium Bharati, Tulsidas, Kalidas, Mahadevi Verma, Bachchan, Nirala, Subhadrakumari Chauhaan, Sarojini Naidu, Vikram Seth, Jeet Thayil, Nissim, Ezikeil, Dom Moraes, Ramanujam, Sahir Ludhyanvi, etc. (Included a lot of female poets, just to ensure that sisters in rhyme can see them if they consider male poets as too confined)

and some essays and guidelines:

2) Best words, best order by Stephen Dobyns
3) Letters to a young poet by Rilke
4) Poetry handbook by Mary Oliver
5) Rhyme's reason by Hollander
1000) Primer for poets by Karl Shapiro

Poetry requires craftmanship, creativity, labor and talent. If any one of these is not good enough, it fails to inspire, last, please, exist!

{Adding lines from my comments}

I suppose people agree with what I said here, or maybe they consider me as someone whose opinions are irrelevant or irreverant. In either case, my idea was to foster a useful list for anyone who is willing to use it for their own progress.

I personally think that sulekha has transitioned into a popularity contest, and therein lies its success and failing. The idea of publishing authors from sulekha is brilliant; but if they want the published books to be taken seriously, the content must be chosen by editors and writers who know grain from chaff. Many of the poems linked to the blog would not qualify for publication in the most ordinary of magazines and journals. If sulekha seriously believes in "sulekh" and wants to nourish "good writing", they must have people on the board who take literature and creativity seriously.

Art is hard work. Talent is as easy to find as is a toothpick. But someone who can fashion a masterpiece is rarer. Value the talent, value the effort, but it takes a real discovery on the part of someone to be revered as Einstein, Newton, Heisenberg, Poincare. It takes some real talent and work from someone to become Van Gogh, Mozart, WS Maugham, Rushdie, Ghalib. It requires "tapasya" or penance, and a devotion that is there irrespective of what rewards are offered or not.

But neither these ideas or the practice comes without long drawn effort; and even then not every cup will hold the "amrita" or "nectar". Yet sing on, o bards, for every poem has some audience and some purpose, like every food item has. Delicacy is not for everyday, and also not for everyone to offer or have.

(More from my response to comments)

I do not quite agree with the common stance that success and greatness is relative, and depends upon how you choose your standards. There is perhaps no one who won't know difference between Tagore poem and the one written by a five year old rhymster. There is a difference between Tendulkar and Dravid, Lara and Chandrapaul, Kumble and Sunil Joshi eventhough in these cases, we are still comparing relative greatness and success. But if you say that Ganguly is no better than the best batsman in the streets of Baraelli, I will be obliged to think that your knowledge of cricket and standards of comparison are flawed. The reason why Tolstoy and Dostovesky are considered great writers has something to do with how well they write, how profound and universal their stories are, how well crafted characters are part of well orchestered narrative, and how they engage the minds and hearts of readers across space and time. Don't you think so?

(and more)

Once a piece of writing leaves from personal notebook, and if you want anyone to read it and maybe appreciate it, all rules of communication, grammar and composition apply. I have said this before that the world is more musical because of bathroom singers, and I guess I am one myself. But I don't expect all bathroom singers to take the stage and become performers. But if they wish to do so, they must be ready for putting in the hours of "riyaaz" (practice). A shoddy performance, even if excuses exist, is still a shoddy performance, and the spectator who criticizes it may not do it due to jealously, envy (sour grapes), but because he feels cheated when he must clap for something, that the performer himself thinks is average at best.

Fortunately, I have read most of the poets I listed, and trust me, it is a rewarding experience. When every sentence is laden with aethestic beauty, every word is chosen becuase it provides both the right music, and contexual meaning, the poem itself transcends the page, and becomes a part of your intellectual and emotional experience.

As I already said before, I can see why sulekha has chosen to pick and publish people, and in my own way, I have always supported sulekha's efforts. Like a loving parent or teacher, who chides his kids or student, for their faults, I sit here and comment on things. I suppose I love poetry and literature too deeply. I expect to read the writers who act and perform like a cricket team, where I will ever wish to see a competitive unit, a proper demonstration of every skill, and attention to every aspect of the game. Maybe I will sit and watch "gully" (street) cricket at times, clap at it, participate in it, pat a decent performance. Yet I think it wise and important to keep everything in perspective!

1 comment:

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