Delhi’s Bandaged Heart – Life with Norton Poetry of Anthology, Central Delhi
Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Ink is trickling from the corners of my mouth. There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry.
Poetry, you ask?
I used to dislike it too. I was also scared by it. And, as any responsible person, I considered there were things way more important than such fiddle. Like preparing for competitive exams. Finding a job. Keeping up to date with the news. Following the newest fashion. And making that long-due appointment with the dentist.
These are the things that keep the wheels of life moving.
But since past few years, reading poems is starting to be as essential to me as brushing my teeth in the morning (and at night).
There is just too much prose in this world. It is there in the text messages we send to friends, in our Facebook updates and even in this very piece you are reading. And yet one ought not to feel ungrateful towards prose. A finely written novel with fresh ideas, or a well-researched newspaper dispatch, can open windows in our mind better than any text book on social studies. The world however seems hardwired for prose alone, and if you don’t actively look for poetry, you can spend an entire lifetime without being touched by its beauty.
For most of us, all the poetry we get to know, when at all, is the little bit we come across in literature books at school. Later we become vaccine scientists or investment bankers, fashion designers or restaurant managers, and success in those careers makes it possible for us to forego the world of poems altogether.
Or, does it?
After all, a poem, I remember reading in some book, begins as a song and continues as a song. By that logic, aren’t all those Bollywood love songs our connection to poetry?
At the risk of sounding like my grandmother, I insist that the lyrics of a High Rated Gabru or a Chikni Chameli cannot be a “memorable speech”—the simple definition poet WH Auden gave to poetry.
The life-stirring poems are no seasonal hits, my friend. They have been affecting readers for years. Many of them were composed centuries ago in far away countries, and yet they speak to us as urgently as a raw wound. It is true that very often one doesn’t get their entire meaning. So many Emily Dickinson poems, for instance, elude me. And yet there is something special, something magical, in their difficult strange lines that make you look at the world—-your own home, family, friends—with new eyes and sensations.
Perhaps poets, too, are a category of scientists. Technicians of the soul. While an astrologer spends a lifetime penetrating the mysteries of distant planets, the verse writer attempts to penetrate into the very essence of thoughts and feelings that make us human.
Speaking of myself, I have stopped being scared of poetry. It’s ok if I don’t get their entire meaning either. In fact, as a reporter of city life, I actively search for unknown poets in my own city, Delhi, in order to write about them. They may not always be well known but their poems sometimes reach out to me as powerfully as the famous much-anthologised poets. These city folks, despite their busy lives, recognise the essentility of poetry and spend a time of their day writing about it, often on their mobile phones while commuting to work. It is they who give music to to our prosaic cities.
By the way, whenever I leave my pad , it’s with a small rucksack stuffed with complete Emily Dickinson, complete Marianne Moore, complete Wallace Stevens, complete Elizabeth Bishop, and the thing that happens to be the heaviest is my battered paperback of Norton poetry anthology. It has 2200 pages, 334 poets and 1828 poems. My own Lonely Planet guidebook to life.
On eating poetry