Claus Ankersen shares his views on the recent poetry festival in Chennai.

Poetry is on the move in southern India. As I see it, the Prakriti Poetry Festival is all the way up there on the global map of poetry festivals. Impeccably organised, the logistics of handling more than 30 poets, each reading in at least four different venues, smooth like Swiss clockwork. The atmosphere, one of warmth and inclusion. Handling poets from all sorts of backgrounds, accommodating their needs, and transporting them to and from more than 120 readings and meals for a two-week period is no small task.

Poetry with Prakriti, like so many other things under the sun, is the child of one man's vision and the dedicated effort of a hardworking, highly professional team. A central part of the Prakriti essence lies in the structure of having each of the featuring poets appear before four different types of audiences in four different venues. Prakriti founder and curator Ranvir Shah states this explicitly in the foreword to the Poetry with Prakriti 2007-2008 Anthology. In my opinion, this accurately reflects the reality poets face in the execution of our work in a live-literary setting, whether it is in India or Iceland.

Venues and audiences vary. Sometimes you face small, seemingly insignificant audiences in awkward venues with no sound system and insufficient lighting. At other times, you face grand scale audiences, fully equipped with state of the art “sound et lumiere”. The challenge at each and every venue, to reach across the stage, whether it be the stage of a concert hall or a small circle, to reach out and make your poetry resonate within the people before you. In this sense, the small scale venue can provide an excellent setting for an intimate and very private reading, while the large audience and hi-tech equipment correspondingly provides the poet with the opportunity to work with his or her material in a radically different way.

Poetry for the people

Another great effect of this structure and of spoken word poetry as such, is that it allows the general public to familiarise itself with an artistic expression and literary genre which in my opinion have been sorely misconstrued as an elitist expression, written for the specially gifted, by the specially gifted. And while this certainly can be true, in no way it necessarily is true. On the contrary. Performing some 80-100 live yearly readings of my own poetry and literature for more than a decade has convinced me otherwise. Just by exposing poetry to people who would not otherwise have sought it out, creates change and inspiration, and most people generally appreciate the poetic expression.

In Poetry with Prakriti, this outreach to the general public is an integral part. From the ardent poetry lover, to the indifferent walk in. From the jubilant student to the family member of a colleague. This festival offered it all. Huge crowds and small crowds, audiences so enthusiastic they could barely contain themselves as well as the yawny, wishing it to be over soon.

What about the poets?

So what about the poets? Here too, the diversity of style, tone, topic and performance varied greatly, mirroring the reality of the poetic scene on an international level. From the legend to the rookie.

Rising star Javits Rajendran baffled time and again with his skilled and fast-paced bilingual spoken word poetry in a mix of Tamil and English, and pared with a truly poetic spirit and apt curiosity, this poet soon became everyone's darling. Anju Makhija, T.P. Rajeevan, and Nabina Das dived far below paper-surface in their poetic negotiation of the idiomatic and the universal in the creation of their work.

Poets like Ayesha Chatterjee and Hemant Mohapatra worked effectively with the modern compression of the complex into as short and precise phrasing as possible.

Crisp and concisely observing, Ayesha had some of the best two-liners I've heard in a long time.

Kerala-based Suneetha B. made my heart sing with hers as she sang a piece in Malayalam, while Bombay-based poets Menka Shivdasani and Peter Griffin both handled the world and the word with twig-dry humour, invoking absurdity and the pervasively surreal element of life.

The works of Delhi-based Abha Iyengar took all on a journey through the heartland of humanity, effectively demonstrating that human zest for life knows no age. And returning cosmopolitans Prithi Aisola and Prabhakar T. Rajan both excelled in explosively short-formed razor-sharp imagery. Aisola's series of “silence-poetry” transcending the boundaries between poetry and horror, evoking the same uneasiness as when reading Poe.

Danish Husain, whose name I naturally found appealing, effortlessly played with the cross-disciplinary art of combining storytelling, poetry and performance. From Kala Ramesh, not only I, but everybody present at Semmozhi Poonga, was introduced to the intricacies of Haiku poetry on an advanced level.

The next generation of poets was also granted voice at Poetry with Prakriti, as college-level poets and elementary school poets alike competed in a Poetry Slam — the martial arts of poetry — in Tamil and English. Finally, the poetic collaboration between several performing poets on stage simultaneously was explored by a zesty international appearance of poets from Literature across Frontiers, fresh out of an intensive seven-day workshop at Adi Shakti near Puducherry. Poetry film screenings from Berlin-based Zebra Poetry Film Festival, topped off the programme, with touching, experimental and scary works.

Usually, I do not attempt to qualify the works of my peers. To me, poetry, as well as all other artistic expression be it music, painting, dance or sculpture, is best when it's consumed and experienced with the open mind of the fool and uninhibited empathy. To disengage and to rationalise, to dissociate and intellectualise is an exercise most of us know all too well. If it swings, it swings. If it rocks, well, then it rocks. Poetry, as all, human endeavour, in my opinion, is an expression that must yield to intention. And wisdom, insight as well as entertainment and a good laugh can be had, and gained everywhere. In the high as well as in the low. However, different from your own perspective, inclination or background it might or might not be.

Thank you all, and as I usually say when leaving the stage after yet another performance: You've been great. See you on Facebook.

The Poetry with Prakriti Festival was held in Chennai recently.

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