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On Poetry

Truth is not easy. Truth is harsh, uncaring and brutal, even when it is most life-giving and most beautiful. Sometimes we have to lie even to tell the truth. There are moments when we stay silent hoping that the truth which tugs at our soul will some how fade away. We ignore the constant banging of the door and cover our ears with our palms. But this persistent animal stays adamant at our door, persistent and pleading. It stays sobbing besides our doors, sobbing, and one can not step out without trampling over it. At such moments we need poetry. 

Poetry is a beautifully and cunningly crafted lie which allows us to embrace the truth when we can no longer avoid it. Poet makes up the things. Poie`sis means making. When truth is inescapable, poetry becomes necessary. When truth rains on us with all its acidic waters, poetry mellows it down and ensures that our souls are saved of the blisters. 

Poems remain timeless and stay hovering over generations like small clouds floating in the skies and will rain on the souls today, tomorrow and centuries down the line, whenever a soul is ready. The line between prose and poetry is not very definitive, but one key difference that comes to my mind is this. Prose is definitive, while poetry is abstract. 

Prose wants to go somewhere, poetry does not want to reach anywhere. Poetry doesn't need to be verbose, it need not many sentences, one sentence with the shiny whiteness of its truth can make it a poem, or even a word, a word like the one which Poe write - 
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
that one word, as if his soul, in that one word, he did outpour 
                                                      (The Raven- By Edgar Allen Poe)

It is happy in being there and is not in rush to reach somewhere. In prose, poetry happens, when prose takes a pause and is not rushing towards one object or other. Paul Celan says - 

"Poems are..underway. They are making towards something."

This captures the essence of poetry. It is always unsure of itself and is content in existing. Not that it does not try. It goes there, reaches almost there, nearly there, but never exactly there. It flourishes in that sacred space between commerce and art. 

Poetry never pushes, never goads. At the best of its persuasive forms, it gently nudges. Anything more, and it becomes a slogan, an abuse. 

Poetry like aphorisms are layered wisdom. Just as Nietzsche writes that aphorisms are long legs one needs to cross deep valleys. Poetry uses metaphors for the purpose. One needs to sit down on the knees and peel the layers to reach the pearl. Poets are forced by something larger than them- a cause, a need, a pain, a joy to write, but they do not want to write. They write it because they have no choice but to write. 

Therefore, a poet write with a pronounced sense of defeat and a definite sense of shyness, with an embarrassed modesty. Poets therefore, invariably depend on the sense of reader for the poem to complete there sense of being. 

He writes and leaves his poems, like hopeful orphans waiting for someone benevolent to come along and adopt them, understand them. Poems are the jewels of truth waiting in darkness for the reader to discover them. Edward Hirsch in his wonderful book How to Read a Poem writes 

"Reading is a point of departure, an inaugural, an initiation."

Poetry in a one-sided contract signed by the poet in anticipation of a reader who would some day come along and sign on the blank space, completing the contract. Poetry truly succeeds when the reader finds it. Hirsch therefore calls poetry an act of reciprocity. 
Yeats writes 

"I made it out of a mouthful of air"

and then leaves it to his reader to make or remake the poem. Octavio Paz calls the poet and his reader two moments of a single reality. That is intersection from where poetry soars flapping its angelic, white wings.  

Poets are helpless creatures, hassled by their insurmountable sense of commitment to their truth. Poems write themselves and poets merely offer them a medium to flow through. Shelley writes in his  essay In Defense of Poetry-

"Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according the determination of the will. A man cannot say,"I will compose poetry." The greatest poet cannot say it for the mind in creation is as a fading coal which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness.

There is something bigger than the mere mortal in the being of a poet is at play here, there is something divine. It hardly matters if I write and you read. It succeeds when I write as if you had written it. Poems represent universality of emotions. As Borges contends - 

"We are all one; our inconsequential minds are much alike, and circumstances so influence us that it is something of an accident that you are the reader and I the writer- the unsure, ardent writer - of my verses."

On this International Poetry Day, let us remember those poets who converted their sufferings into poems so that our sufferings become bearable. Let us remember those giants of intellect and soul about who was so well described by Soren Kierkegaard when he writes-

What is a poet?An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and the cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music..and people flock around the poet and say:'Sing again soon' that is , may new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for that cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful."

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