Poetry as vehicle of expression


Travelling with "The Ancient Mariner" ...

Travelling with "The Ancient Mariner" ...  

THE POETRY Circle of the Culture Caf�, British Council, Chennai, has done nearly 50 readings in the past six years.

The defining tone is multi-culturalism. Skeins of emotions and thoughts from distant corners of the globe are braided with sensitivity to lead you to ``magic casements that open out to faery lands forlorn." And for an hour or more, you gain insights into powerful imaginations and marvel at the power of words. Words arranged strictly according to metre, words that gambol joyously free from fetters... Through verses that tear at the heart, verses that make your senses leap and that can make your blood curdle emerge the various themes. Of the long ago and the far away, of the here and now. About love and celebration, creation and catastrophe, the war between nations and the waiting for the peace chimes. You can travel with the ancient mariner carrying his heavy cross of the albatross, you can agonise with the soldier in the muddy trenches embroiled in a hopeless cause, you can exult at Nature's resplendence or reflect on the venality of man. Or you can have the breeze from the lochs blowing in their music on December 5 when there will be a thematic reading on Scottish poetry.

The Poetry Circle has presented collections of works culled from around the world and telescoping time. The classic and the Romantic, the metaphysical and the modern rub shoulders with the post-modern and the post-colonial. Even for those who have doubts whether these dramatised readings are the way poetry should be presented, the sessions are enjoyable for the number of poets one is introduced to and the number one is pleasurably reacquainted with. ``The Poetry Circle, a unit of the Culture Caf� of the council was set up in 1997 soon after the Irish poet Stephen Knight was here on a visit to conduct a workshop for writers," says Rathi Jaffer, Manager, Arts and Culture, of the BCL. "The then Director Jaspar Utley, and the present director Eunice Crook are highly supportive of its activities. The council plays a facilitator's role. The Culture Caf� is a forum for young people interested in the visual and performing arts to exchange ideas and share experiences. The response has been excellent in the past two or three years and we owe it to the audience to work at quality."

Renuka Rajaratnam, coordinator of the poetry events who compiles the collections with care affirms that ``poetry matters a lot although it is often dismissed as verbal flourish or as inaccessible."

The aim of the Circle is to bring poetry out of the academic group, she adds, as it is often considered an intellectual discipline with the romantic notion of the poet as prophet and priest who talks down to people.

``Whether it is Chile, Borneo, India or the West, there is a compulsion to express oneself through poetry. We are in an ethos of overwhelming information. Poetry is relevant as never before in a computerised age as it is a medium that develops the power of concentration. Though older poets are known better, there is a newness in reaching out through contemporary poetry for in the latter there is an extension of cultural sensibility."

Birth anniversaries of poets, deaths, war, political events — almost anything can spark off a reading by the members of the circle. The themes are as many as you can make them.

Particularly interesting and ingenious among the presentations were ``The Well Wrought Urn" where as a potter turned the wheel, at every turn poems seemed to flow out from the clay in her hands with music to keep the rhythm.

Another unusual idea that took form was ``Hearing Colour," the reading of poems inspired by famous works of art. Art installations and a live music performance made it a multi-media presentation.

The Poetry Circle has an outreach programme for schools and colleges. Workshops for teachers are conducted by Renuka and a team headed by Yog Japee, the lead voice in the readings, visits schools to make poetry enjoyable. ``We focus on the syllabus.

And the word takes precedence over performance," says Yog. By November end, 13 schools in the city would have been covered through 20 workshops, he adds.

``We are thinking of moving the readings from beyond our premises in order to reach newer audiences," says Rathi.

Women exchanging notes ... at the British Council — Pic. by. S. Thanthoni

Women exchanging notes ... at the British Council — Pic. by. S. Thanthoni  

HAVE YOU ever wondered how the wives and lovers of the heroes of history, myth and fairy tale might have responded to their husband's special gifts?

Delilah to Samson's locks, Midas' wife to his golden touch, Aesop's spouse to his fables, Freud 's to his theories, Sisyphus' to her husband's rocky toil, Rip van Winkle's to his slumber... even Queen Kong to her ape consort and the Beauty to her Beastly worse half? Well, the Scottish-born British poet Carol Ann Duffy has done so with pungency and wit in her collection ``The World's Wife."

The subaltern voices of the women left their lingering effect on all those present at the British Council on November 6.

One got a taste of what they could have gone through as these articulate women got together in a pub, bonded together and exchanged confidences and notes in ``(Wo)men United!"

In finely delivered conversational style, Indrani Krishnaier, Rathi Jafer, Mallika Sen , Manasi Subramaniam, Sharmila Ranganath and Shruti Chandrasekar gave it to their men, downing beer or sipping soft drinks.

Krishna Kumar S. had conceptualised it effectively and the women played their parts effortlessly, delivering the tongue- in-cheek lines or the stinging satire with just the right tonal inflexions and expressions.

There was a touch of multi-culturalism too with Indrani in an elegant sari. Beginning with the ``Standing Female Nude" (from the collection of that title, 1985), where the nude model casually concludes ``it doesn't look like me," to the Beauty listing out the advantages of being married to a beast, a whole gallery of characters and range of perspectives came floating into view.

``Basically I don't take a specifically feminist stance. I'm interested in Greek mythology and Duffy's poetry is brilliant.

There is no melodrama in this kind of feminism. Even when there is the conversational mode there is an internal rhyme.

Some of the portions may shock but these are the trends in world literature today and we can't remain in our cocoons," said Krishna Kumar later.

If only the entrance and exit for the members of the audience had been as easy as the flow of the poems!