An intimate gathering of poets and poetry lovers celebrated World Poetry Day

“Perhaps you’ve been lurking behind bookends. Or maybe, you’ve been asleep in the sentences of my favorite piece of writing. Were you in the ink of my pen? Or the pages of my moleskin diary?” asked Srividya Sivakumar in her poem lurk. At the World Poetry Day celebrations by Coimbatore Art and Theatrical Society (CATS), nothing lurked — not words and phrases, nor imagination and poetry. All things literary flowed free at the Stanes Higher Secondary School Hall, as city poets, both closet and published, read either their verses or those of writers they cherished.

The evening began with a short musical production of Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and the Pussy Cat. Young Jethro Daniel then presented two poems, Start Up and Me and You, both read aloud by his father, for Jethro has cerebral palsy and writes poems by signalling at letters with his shoulder.

There followed poems on love and Nature by Air Cmde (Retd) Minoo Vania, and poems on womanhood by Madhumitha Varadaraj and Tanvi P.S. While Madhumitha wrote through vivid visuals of being A woman in the City of Small Pleasures, Tanvi defined Akaisha — a woman whose ‘reflection isn’t a blur’.

There were poems that looked within, such as Siddarth Manoharan’s Noisy Silence of the quiet in his mind against the chaos outside, and Shyam Kumar’s What are we Really After of the extremities we straddle in the search for identity. And then there were those that looked at the world outside, such as JVV Murthy’s critical commentary on America’s wars, Wing Commander Raghavan’s tribute to refugees world over, Ranjan Thomas’s satirical take on Catholicism and Philip Fowler’s wry IMS Titanic on the sinking ship of Indian democracy.

From politics we entered science with Jayashree Murthy’s reading of her sister Prathiba Nandakumar’s work The Quantum Leap. To bring things back to the personal, there was Shobhana Kumar’s No Man’s Land and Packing, Leaving. The first dealt with the loss and distance that emigration brings and the second wondered aloud what one would pack if forced to leave life and home in a few minutes: “Pack just sanity/ and oh yes, forget your heart.”

The evening brought on stage poets as young as Class VIII student Jayashree with her poem Untold Lines and engineering student Renuka reading Just Another Dream. For variety, there was Shivguru with his haikus and a Tamil poem on Draupadi, that he had translated into English too. Tributes were also paid to poetic greats with readings of Rupert Brooke, P.B. Shelley and Rudyard Kipling, as well as contemporary writers such as Meena Kandasamy and Tamil poet, Cantirakanti. A short session called ‘Poet and Poem’ followed where Srividya spoke with moderator Pierce Nigli on writing and poetry.

Lines to music

For this edition of World Poetry Day, CATS took things a notch up from last year by putting Coimbatore’s published poets’ works to music. Singer J.W. Johnson sang his way through the beautifully sad, slurred phrases of Srividya’s poem on alcoholism, someday. He followed up with the upbeat piano-driven rhythm of Minoo’s Chasing Rainbows, and then brought the house down with his aalap-laced composition of Shobhana’s free-verse work, Comfort Zone. As the lines wove through the hot-chocolate-and-books memories of the poet’s boarding school, the vocals ranged from spoken to whispered to belted out, all accompanied by wholly-appropriate percussive guitar playing. The evening closed with the reading of John Donne’s No Man is an Island. As the last lines, “Therefore, send not to know/ For whom the bell tolls/ it tolls for thee”, rang through the hall, outside, the school bells tolled in time.