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Updated: March 19, 2012 19:16 IST

Let's eat some poetry

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March 21 is World Poetry Day. Why? Because it is necessary to dedicate a day to celebrate the riches that poetry gives us. Look around you, there is poetry in everything from the songs you listen to, to the beauty of nature.

“Any healthy man can go without food for two days,” said the French poet Charles Baudelaire, “but not without poetry”. Sounds extreme? But then poets must sound extreme, must lie like crazy if only to arrive at a different truth.

In 1999, UNESCO declared March 21 as World Poetry Day. Want to know why? Because Baudelaire was wrong. He was tweaking the truth a bit! Folks can and do go without poetry and they do not miss it. Not a bit! Not the way they would miss TV or the internet if these went on the blink. You don't find crowds queuing up at midnight to buy a book of poems from a bookstore. In fact, most bookstores don't stock poetry. Only a handful of publishers will publish poetry. Which perhaps prompted Robert Graves to make that acerbic remark: “There is no money in poetry, but then, there is no poetry in money either.” And yet poetry can make you rich in ways that are invisible. World Poetry Day is a way of celebrating the riches that poetry can bring us.

In the old days, poets sung and recited their poems. There was an audience for poetry, an audience made up of ordinary people. No one complained about poetry being difficult. Today many assume that poetry is harder to understand than prose. But is that true?

The songs of Bob Dylan and the Beatles are poetry. Bollywood and Kollywood songs are based on lyrics. Our earliest memories are of nursery rhymes. What are they if not poetry? And you can have a blast with the limericks of Edward Lear! Here's one example:

There was an Old Man with a beard, Who said, `It is just as I feared!'

Two Owls and a Hen,

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!'

A limerick is a witty, funny, nonsense poem. But it is harder to write than it appears. For one thing, it has a fairly strict rhyme scheme. Look at the limerick above. You will notice that “beard” appears twice and that it rhymes with “feared”. That is one set of rhymes in that poem. “Hen” and “Wren” make the other rhyme pair. The poem follows the rules of rhyme and yet it makes sense in a nonsensical kind of way!

A good poet will use rhyme with care. But do all poems have to rhyme? No.

There are many other things that make a poem a good poem.

A good poem need not use rhyme. Free verse does not. And yet it is a form of sorts with its own rules. The American poet Walt Whitman wrote free verse that resonated powerfully with his readers. His lines are long, declarative, bold and rhythmic.

Read his poem “I hear America Singing” (

Which word does he repeat over and over again? Why?

Poems are usually small, compact things. Poets have to get a few words to say many things. This is why they use images. An image is a picture in words used to represent objects, ideas or actions.

In his poem “Eating Poetry”, Mark Strand describes the happiness that poetry gives him:

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry.

Strand represents the idea that poetry makes him absurdly happy by using the image of “eating poetry”. The image transforms his idea into a real, concrete experience — that of ink running from the corners of his mouth.

Want to have some fun with poetry? Look up

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