POETRY OF LIFE, A TEDx TALK IN BANGALORE

The other day a friend remarked that I could cross TEDx talk off my bucket list. I don’t have a bucket list, but I smiled and said ‘Yep.’ As a child I was very social and had absolutely no fear of meeting and talking to people. Once, when I was a pre-teen, my aunt asked me to sing a Hindi song while we were riding a crowded bus in London… and I did. ‘Imagine you are auditioning for a part in a Hindi film,’ she said. ‘Pretend you are sad and disillusioned with your life.’ I pretended, staring into space, past puzzled British citizens, as I belted out ‘Mere Zindigi Ne Mujh Pe (ehsaan kya kiya hai)’. How naive children are! Fast forward almost thirty years later and I still love meeting and being with people. But a talk? That too a TEDx talk? I don’t think so. TEDx speakers were innovators, changers, and inventors, whereas I was just a poet. ‘We want to hear more about poetry,’ I was told.  And so there I was, on a lovely spring March evening, on a stage marked with a big red dot, a giant bindi, if you will, and a carefully curated crowd, as the bindi on my own forehead pulsated.  I was nervous, my legs ready to become one with the ground, and yet I managed to talk for almost 18 minutes. I wanted people to fall in love with poetry the way I had, to embrace its power and feel its strength in encapsulating human experience within a few lines.

Did I succeed? You be the judge. The talk just became available on youtube this week. I’m just grateful for the experience to share what I love. Enjoy!

SPRINGING FORWARD…INTO SUMMER

I know it’s a little to late to say happy new year. Instead, I wish you all a life in full bloom! I can’t believe this is my first post in 2013, but there you have it. My life in poetry/writing has taken such a fantastic turn and I have been busy discovering, learning and implementing. In many ways, 2013 is turning out to be a landmark year and I am so grateful for those that are part of this journey. There is so much to do and to read and to learn. Where do I begin…

Right before the advent of the new New Year, I finished my first poetry collection, ‘Geography of Tongues.’ It feels fantastic. In many ways, it is a synthesis of the past twenty years of my journey as a poet. Twenty years? Yep, you read right. I’m not that old, and yet I don’t think I was ready to bring my words out into the world any sooner. Completing a manuscript and getting it ready for publishing really puts things into perspective. Once it is front of you: edited, formatted and all set to print, you realize that your body of work is an entity of its own. It is so much like pregnancy and birth. You plant the seed, then feed and nurture it, but once you release it into the world, it no longer belongs to you fully. Once my book is out there, a little droplet, in this universe of words, it will merge with the words and experience of others and morph into something else.

I would love to share my process and will do so in another post, as it deserves its own space. Geography of Tongues is slated to come out by the end of this summer. Will keep you all updated.

I have also been redesigning/redefining THE (GREAT) INDIAN POETRY PROJECT. After doing a small test launch, I realized how extensive this project is.  We are in the process of building a strong team and an online platform that is easy to use. The question of how to archive poetry is definitely not an easy one. However, asking this very question has set me on a journey that is nothing less than thrilling. It has turned me into an excavator of words, and through that the unearthing of histories and lives 🙂

In the midst of all of this, I have joined forces with two more talented poets, Minal Hajratwala and Ellen Kombiyil, to form a poetry collective, where we will be primarily publishing the first books of Indian poets. This has been a dream of mine for so long and I am really excited about opening a bigger dialogue on Indian poetry, through the introduction of new/fresh voices. We have aptly named it,’ THE (GREAT) INDIAN POETRY COLLECTIVE.’

I also had the honor of giving a TEDx talk on Why Poetry Matters, this March, in Bangalore, and was thrilled to be able to share my love for poetry, while being part of a greater dialogue on innovation in India, with some incredible people. Links to follow soon!

There’s more brewing on the back burner (all things poetry), which I hope to share with you all soon. Will be blogging more regularly and hope to hear from others.

Until then, keep writing till your fingers turn blue!

100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE, IN BANGALORE

Folks in Bangalore,

Mark your calendars for SEPTEMBER 29, for an evening of poetry, music and awareness. I am so very excited to be involved in this event. 100 Thousand Poets for Change (www.100tpc.org) is spearheaded by an American poet, Michael Rothenberg, to bring writers, musicians and artists together, all on one day, in different parts of the world, to raise awareness on issues that affect our society and greater world. To learn more about the Bangalore event, visit the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/100TPCBangalore

I have always been a believer in the power of words to create/promote social change. Mahatma Gandhi, through words and action, was able to arouse a whole nation to fight for their freedom. Martin Luther King through his famous speech, I have a Dream, was able to inspire African Americans to fight for their civil rights. And singers like John Lennon, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, through their songs, have been able to help us ‘Imagine all the people, living life in peace.’

Poets like June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Gloria Anzaldua and Carolyn Forche`, have moved me with their commitment to embrace social change though their writing. I remember cracking open Adrienne Rich’s What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics and being flabbergasted  that one could be so honest in exploring activism through art. Indian poets like Namdeo Dhasal and Meena Kandasamy have blasted through stereotypes with their powerful poetry, exploring issues of caste, class and religion.  There are so many writers and artists, who through their words, have touched our lives, and will continue to do so.

What can you and I do? We can believe that nothing is too small or insignificant. Every word, every notion, every emotion counts. Drops do form an ocean. A simple poem can touch us and move us to action. Maybe a poem about a school under a tree, will make us want to volunteer once a week at a government school or help fund a new school. Maybe hearing a poem on domestic violence will give you the courage to approach your friend who’s been hiding her bruises We have the opportunity to put belief into action. And while I am not sure how things will evolve, I will be there to see the power of words bring us all together. Hope to see you there too.

DO GOOD DIPLOMATS MAKE GOOD POETS?

Wrote a little ditty for T(G)IPP on India’s diplomat-poets. You can read it here. In the past two weeks, I kept coming across small snippets on the internet, featuring Indian diplomats who are inspired by their travels to write poems. Obviously, their diplomatic status has helped bring their work to light. And that’s fine by me, if it brings people’s attention to Indian poetry. But are their poems any good? Maybe this is a good time for me to flash the poet’s ‘poetic immunity’ card. Ah, if there were such a thing. It’s not all that bad, really. But after Pablo Neruda’s contributions to the poetry world, diplomat-poets and plain old poets for that matter, have their work cut out for them.

GLOBAL POETRY SYSTEM-GPS

Just discovered this wonderful poetry resource on youtube called Global Poetry System, a project by Southbank Centre, UK, whose lofty goal is to explore and map the poetry of the world.  Within the span of a few minutes, poets read their work or share their relationship with poetry in terms of place, etc. They have 321 videos. Can’t wait to watch all of them. Some of our very own Indian poets are there: Jeet Thayil, Tabish Khair and Karthika Nair, among others. Enjoy!

TWITTERTRY, ANYONE?

‘Provoked’ by the power packed in little tweets, 71 year old filmmaker-poet-painter-journalist Pritish Nandy launched his book of 100 poems, two days ago, titled, ‘Stuck on 1/forty.’ Like a tweet, each poem of Nandy’s is defined by 140 characters. Enhanced by bright colors and bold fonts, each poem aspires to grab your attention and make you think.

Nandy’s thoughts on the book and poetry in general, as shared on IANS:

I don’t think poetry mutates over the years. It only keeps opening up to more new ideas, new vistas and new experiments, particularly in recent times…Stuck on 1/40 is one such experiment. If people read it, like it, share it, if it grows the conversation on the social network, it would have achieved its objective…Twitter is just a means of communication. Means do not inspire people. Content does. But the poems will work only when people read them and like them as poems. That is the most important thing. Poetry is format agnostic. It is even idiom agnostic. Language is changing today.

To get a taste of Nandy’s work, check out the slick youtube promo: 

BECAUSE POETRY MATTERS…

“What happens to my drafts, my manuscripts, after my death?” asks poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. “They will be kept in boxes and sold by the kilo to the raddiwallah (scrap dealer) is what.”

Cup of tea in hand, I sat up, wondering how and why one of India’s most respected poets would say this. Gayatri Jayaraman’s article in Lounge, the weekend edition of mint, a business newspaper in India, shocked, informed and inspired me. That no dedicated archive for modern Indian poetry exists made me sad and at the same time made my heart race. There was work to do! Many fine Indian poets had gone out of print, some had toiled in obscurity, and others were scattered across the globe, not knowing about the existence of the other. On finishing this article, I felt a great sense of urgency to do something, to somehow help preserve this scattered legacy of words. How could I help? What could I do? Writing is a solitary art. Writing poetry, I feel, even more so, because of its distilled nature  to present thoughts and emotions within the frame of a stanza . Between the words lie so many silences and yet this desire to connect. I had been toying with the idea of a literary press specializing in poetry and an online space of sorts on modern Indian poets for months/years. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s statement made me realize I should do this soon.

And so begins this crazy journey. The internet is a godsend, along with Jeet Thayil’s anthology, 60 Indian poets. But there are more, many more poets whose words are out there between the pages of a literary journal, a magazine, a chapbook. I feel like a kid in a candy store. Which candy do I eat  first? Which poet/poem do I dive into? There are websites of poets like the late Dilip Chitre, whose compelling words and pictures make him seem as if he never left us. My hope is to bring all of these resources- profiles, poems, pictures, websites, blogs, audio files, etc. under one roof. I invite you all to join me on this journey as well. Welcome to The (Great) Indian Poetry Project!