The poetry scene in Bangalore is vibrant. Performance poetry has encouraged youngsters to engage more with the form, writes Arundhati Hazra

Poetry has changed in form and content over the years. The earliest poems were epics like the Mahabharatha and the Iliad, lengthy narratives of glorious kings and their heroic deeds. Byron and Ghalib ushered in the Romantic Age, inspiring thousands of poets and songwriters to compose ballads on matters of the heart. More recently, it has been a tool of social change, such as during the Arab Spring, when verses of a Tunisian poem became a rallying cry for protesters fighting for freedom and democracy. Despite the changes in form, the essence of poetry — as a way to express human emotions — has remained unchanged.

“Without poetry, literature would be a dusty grey book infested with cobwebs in the corner of a rundown library,” rhapsodizes Samantak Bhadra. “While prose helps in drawing pictures and creating stories, poetry helps bring colour and human emotions into the otherwise lifeless pictures. The importance of poetry in literature cannot be highlighted enough.”

Bangalore’s poetry scene is especially vibrant, with a plethora of poetry readings at bookstores, libraries and cafes. Says Shikha Malaviya, co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, “When I first moved here six years ago, there was the occasional reading. But now there seems to be an explosion of venues where poetry is recited weekly and monthly. Performance/slam poetry has encouraged young people to come out and recite their verse in a more stylish way.” Bhadra concurs. “Book launches, readings, workshops, jams, literature fests, and talks are being organized frequently in places ranging from bookstores like Atta Galatta to libraries like EasyLib and cafes like Urban Solace. People in the city are genuinely interested in poetry.”

Tuesdays with the Bard at the Urban Solace Cafe is the best-known and longest running poetry event in the city, where, every week, poets come up to read their works to audiences. Says proprietor Perry Menzies, “Tuesdays with the Bard was born out of a deep love for poetry. When we launched as a weekly event, we had only the first poet lined up. We had no clue who the next poet would be and how we would sustain this initiative. Now, 168 weeks down the line, it is probably because of divine intervention that we have been able to keep alive the experience of live poetry in Bangalore.”

Atta Galatta has often had poetry events, be it book launches or poetry gatherings, and its inaugural monthly poetry reading event, Let Poetry Be, saw good participation from poets and audiences alike. “Let Poetry Be was conceptualized as a platform for amateur and professional poets to read and meet with each other,” says proprietor Subodh Sankar. “The event was a huge success and we had a standing room only crowd. In our experience, the quality of poets is excellent in Bangalore and the enthusiasm is very heartening to see.”

Globally, however, poetry publishing is seeing a slowdown. The recession led to a number of small presses closing down and budgets being slashed at various publishing houses. Nielsen Bookscan UK’s figures showed a 15.9 per cent drop in poetry sales in 2012 in the land of Eliot and Wordsworth. Finding the poetry section in an Indian bookstore will require the best of your sleuthing skills, and often produce just a slim volume of Gulzar snuggled between stacks of self-help.

All is not gloom and doom, though. The internet has opened up new avenues for veteran and amateur poets to display their work. Online literary journals like Muse India, The Four Quarters Magazine and Kritya accept poetry submissions, and the rise of independent imprints like Poetrywala, dedicated solely to publishing poetry, is good news for poets aspiring to see their works in print.

One of the major challenges Indian poets face is the lack of awareness and understanding about contemporary poetry among the general public. Poetry is seen as esoteric and inaccessible by many, and the dominance of Keats and Shelley in textbooks does little to dispel its slightly stuffy aura. Says Shikha, “I think there needs to a revamping of syllabuses in schools and colleges. This doesn’t mean we need to ban Lord Tennyson or Rabindranath Tagore. However, we need to include more contemporary voices from our generation. We also need to understand our poetic legacy. The work of brilliant poets such as Gopal Honnalgere, Kersey Katrak and others have gone out of print and we need to find a way to bring them back.” “More publishers ready to invest in very talented but unknown poets, and corporate sponsorship for poetry as an art form are some things that can help promote poetry,” says Perry.

“There is a pleasure in poetic pains

Which only poets know.”

Nobody put it righter than William Cowper, and poetry-appreciating Bangaloreans sure agree with him.