So says poet Arundhathi Subramaniam who emphasises the need for poets to not be pressured to make it ‘big’, while also noting how good times are ahead for the art of poetry, thanks to young poets.
These past couple of years, I’ve been on the jury of at least three poetry competitions. On each occasion, I’ve found myself happily surprised. At least ten to fifteen entries each time round have been arresting. Whether it’s a dexterous turn of phrase, a sharp image, or an unexpectedly sophisticated feel for form, it’s clear that there are young people out there writing — and writing seriously.
Publishers and buyers of poetry continue to prove elusive. But poets of promise continue to endure. And like poets since the dawn of time, these young voices have their own indomitable strategies for survival — e-books, online writing fora, small publishers, web journals... And then, of course, there is the awe-inspiring rise of that phenomenon —the literature festivals — where, despite the general hoop-la over Fiction, Bollywood and the Literature of Ideas, poetry, as a spoken art, does make its presence felt. I’ve just returned from a South Asian Poetry for Peace festival in Kathmandu, put together by a sprightly young team. It actually had poets belting out their work to hundreds in Durbar Square!
In short, there might actually be a small resurgence — not of the poetic art necessarily, but of faith in its possibilities; if true, happy tidings indeed. But here are just a few suggestions to younger poets:
Don’t feel obliged to network: There’s a new brand of poet with business card and manuscript who marches around lit fests, only acknowledging the existence of publishers, agents, or potential blurb/ review writers. Don’t let that anxiety rub off on you. There’s a difference between networks and ecosystems, between transaction and mutuality. Real poets are always good listeners, seldom good broadcasters and networkers.
Don’t let your inner demagogue dictate the kind of poetry you write: There’s a very real danger of a new literary form: the festival poem. It may even have its place. But beware of writing for applause at public events. Subtlety and suggestion are still the terrain of poetry. The murmur can be quietly radical, the whisper subversive.
Keep the spirit of internal critique alive: A supportive but constructively critical local writers’ group can do wonders. Social media networks offer encouragement, but robust, muscular workshop criticism can elevate even a middling poem to another level.
Remember — Poets don’t really ‘matter’: And thank god for that. You won’t make money. You won’t win fame. Poets take poetry seriously, not themselves. Don’t be in a hurry to arrive. There are no VIPs here. Enjoy your inconsequentiality. Therein lies your freedom.
Arundhathi is a writer, poet and columnist who has authored three books of poems and constantly promotes discussions on various arts.