World Poetry Day 2024: Find Out If The Appeal Of Poetry Extends To The Present Day Or Not

World Poetry Day 2024: Find Out If The Appeal Of Poetry Extends To The Present Day Or Not

Poetry holds immense appeal for me -- whether it is in working out an interpretation of a Shakespearean sonnet or marvelling at the depths contained within a 3-line haiku by Basho

Dinesh RahejaUpdated: Saturday, March 16, 2024, 10:42 PM IST
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Poetry holds immense appeal for me -- whether it is in working out an interpretation of a Shakespearean sonnet or marvelling at the depths contained within a 3-line haiku by Basho. I find myself sighing over a romantic line by Neeraj or Neruda or turning to Dickinson’s ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ as a balm during troubled times. For poetry aficionados, there is unalloyed joy in experiencing an epiphany while pondering over a particularly insightful line of verse.

Yet, one sees distressingly few books on poetry at bookstores nowadays. On the other hand, one takes hope in the fact that social media feeds these days are abrim with short quotations from notable verses as well as pithy pronouncements passing off as poetry. 

Actor Victor Banerji carried around a dog-eared book of poems when I was writing a BBC show he was compering two decades ago. In contrast, today’s youth carry smartphones and have quick-trigger scrolling fingers, but the enthusiastic response to a poetry contest I hosted on my YouTube  channel indicates that there is a wealth of poets still practising their art. 

So it seems a bit of a conundrum: Do people still read poetry and is worthwhile poetry still being published? Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Editor-in-chief of Om Books International, which has published my  book on poems: 101 Haiku in 2017, reveals: “Poetry is being published,  but not in the kind of numbers that one would like. The common grouse is that it does not sell. A lot of the poetry we see published is what I call celeb poetry. But we have just published Vidhi Bubna's wonderful collection of poetry, The Culture Trap. Last year, we published Maria Goretti's collection of poems. On the anvil is a translation of Kunwar Narain's Kumarajiva, a translation of the works of Lal Ded, and a collection of the poetry of the Sufi poet from Gujarat, Sachal Sarmast.”

Pic: Pexels

While acknowledging that the market for English poetry may be sluggish, Chaudhuri would like to believe there are still buyers of poetry books in India. He pointed out, “Mehak Goyal's first book of poems Failure to Make Round Rotis sold out its print run in three months. Akhil Katyal and Rupi Kaur have created a market for their kind of poems. The Bengali and Malayalam markets are robust.”

The internet and social media have opened up new avenues for poets and their craft. However, Chaudhuri sees it as a mixed blessing. “A lot of the poems I see shared on social media are cringe-worthy,” he rues. “However, there are more people writing and performing poetry now. It is an immensely popular form, which, unfortunately, is not reflected in book sales or conviction on the part of publishers.”

This reluctance on the part of publishers is what Dr Ankur Gupta ran up against. The poet says, “To my dismay, not many publishers were ready to publish my book of Hindi poetry. Very few poetry books are published in India, and even fewer are read. In this scenario, self publication was the only option for me. From compilation to designing to printing, it took about 3 months, and my book is now available online.”

Ask Gupta to name published poets of repute in recent years and he shrugs. But he rattles off the names of practitioners of the art form from the past: “Serious poetry by Gopaldas Neeraj, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Shiv Mangal Singh Suman and Suryakant Tripathiji were once regularly published and read at large. Till the turn of this century, Hindustani poets like Ashok Chakradhar, Rahat Indori and Bashir Badr Saheb’s work was a delight to read. I remember, during our growing years, newspapers and magazines carried a poetry corner but they have disappeared. Demand for poetry as a literature discipline has definitely dwindled.”

I asked Chaudhuri why we haven't heard of a recent poet of the stature of Tagore, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Mahadevi Verma or a Dom Moraes or Nissim Ezekiel and he protested, “Those are impossible names to measure up to, and it is not fair to expect anyone to be like them. Brilliant poets like Ranjit Hoskote, the late Kunwar Narain, Joy Goswami have created great work.”

Maybe some of the best poets of late have also crossed over to song-writing, which corals a bigger audience. Vidya Balan, who wrote the foreword for my book on poems, admitted that she felt “a bit intimidated by poetry, but found it easier to relate to poetry used in the form of a Hindi film song.” Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan winning the Noble Prize for Literature evidences the blurring boundaries between the art forms. 

Reader Suguna Sundaram says, “My 90-year-old dad still buys and devours books of poetry. But nowadays, I read poetry more on the internet. As for the next generation, they just don’t consume poetry the way we mooned over it, argued and, yes, showed off by quoting entire poems. So, I share lines from poems in my communication with them.”

Good poetry can encompass the universe in a few words, says Sundaram, and concludes with her favourite lines from Kahlil Gibran: 

"Between what is said and not meant,

 And what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.”

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