What should poetry be?

Art, creativity, rhyme, rhythm, rule breaking?

Or perhaps… starving artists, writing blocks, free verse, and prose poetry. 

When I think of poetry, I think of moments.

Instances and distances, captured in crisp clean words, sharp as a sword, slicing through inhibitions. Swerving around discomfort, sliding into its oil-smeared language sheath. 

Poetry resounds.

Echoes through chambers, giving voice to gassed creatures, tongueless beings, tortured souls. 

Poetry nurtures.

Comforts the pained, strained, and the maimed. Speaks to innermost feelings, gently, as lathering lotion on sun-scorched skins.

Poetry heals.

Remembers the forgotten, acknowledges slaps and punches that broke the bones.  Respects with solemnity—a bandaid for moving on.

Poetry lives.

Smiles at similes, accidental puns, and misheard metaphors. Thrives in you and me, in sharing of friendship even in darkest of times.

Poetry loves.

Gives a piece of one to another, faithful, unfailing. Opens doors and arms to worlds only believers can imagine.

Poetry… is.


Over the weekend, I attended a poetry festival called Poetry on the Move. One of the panel discussions was what poetry is and what it should be. This is my response, inspired by many interesting thoughts. Some more of my musings from the festival: What’s the value of poetry? and Labels.

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How to spring in Australia

Just before summer last year, I pottered about the streets—fresh out of a shower with nothing more than a light-scented talcum powder mildly-layering my brown surface. Temperatures didn’t exceed 42 degrees Celsius, and the talc was more than enough to prevent me from turning into a body of walking stink.How to spring in Australia. Just before summer last year, I pottered about the streets—fresh out of a shower with nothing more than a light-scented talcum powder mildly-layering my brown surface. Temperatures didn’t exceed 42 degrees Celsius, and the talc was more than enough to prevent me from turning into a body of walking stink.

I was in Chennai, a south Indian city of over 6 million people. 

This time, I’m in Canberra. It’s springtime, and people smile at the sun, women gliding about in beautiful spring skirts, men waddling in khaki shorts trying to balance two beers in one hand, and more people in singlets of every colour and pattern. I’ve seen all kinds of ankles, knees, and arms. Temperature can reach up to 25 degrees now, and 42 degrees in summer.

I don’t have talcum powder anymore.

Instead, 

I have sunscreen. 

Moisturiser.

Petroleum jelly, because I’m still recovering from winter dryness.

I have lip balm.

Deodorant.

And I’m nursing chapped, cracked, and chipped skin. 

Welcome to Australia—the sun loves us so much that it ripped the ozone, earth’s face mask, away  so it can kiss us more fully, purely, with love as mother showers upon her 18-month baby, except more harshly.

18 degrees, an idealistic dream in Chennai, burns in Canberra. 

Normal. 

The sun has a way to hurt you, and you have a way to deal with it. What else are conglomerates for? They churn out cream after cream, all-purpose ones for efficiency and portability, and more specialised, individually focussed line of products for a more complete skin care. Variantly priced to suit your comfort.

And yet, it’s not just about lining rows and rows of supermarket shelves with liquids and creams people may or may not want. It’s not the unrestrained dance of the capitalist banshee, wasteful.

It’s necessary. 

Australia has one of the world’s highest skin cancer rates. Although tanning has been huge crazy (why, I’ll never understand), our unnatural behaviour has led to natural exposure to excessive UV rays, and that keeps this country a hot bed.

No one goes out without synthetic protection hugging their skins. The more clothes you shed to cope with the rising heat, the more you need to layer up on creams. 

I’m glad I got my transition glasses just in time—my eyelids would fry otherwise.

And that, my friends, is how you spring in Australia. Wonderful time for picnics and lounging on the grass with a book—just as long as you’ve got your layers on.

What’s the value of poetry?

Ah, that primal instinct to put a price tag on everything. As a product on painted, plastic shelves with curved edges that emit fringes of varnish smell from last year’s spring cleaning, and yet, not quite strong enough to mask the sweat of high-vis employees who’ve rested many a heavy heads and brushed uniformed shoulders against.

As if what doesn’t give material back doesn’t warrant time or effort. As though without return on investment—solid pieces of paper and clinking disks you can trade for something else, you shouldn’t bother at all. For what brings you only joy strips away precious time you can manage in other ways. Creeping seconds on a grandmother clock, hands inching from a number to another—time, that you can do more things with, other things. Time, that you can manage efficiently, effectively in order to make something of it, of yourself, of your time on this what’s left of this round, blue pool that’s melting away in its own time.

As if poetry is another supermarket commodity. As if you can valuate bliss. 


Note: I was at a poetry festival, and the value of poetry was one of the panel discussions. This is my response, inspired by intriguing opinions. 

Labels

“Are you a poet?”

“Er—”

I was attending Poetry on the Move, an annual festival in Canberra that celebrates poetry and poets of the world. A recognised poet asked me that inevitable question. I’d told her how much I’d enjoyed her performance the previous night, and she seemed pleased. Either that, or she was so articulate and polite to acknowledge, without betraying any of the weariness that comes with being a popular poet, with the hundreds of people telling them how great their work is. Oh well, just another day.

Then she popped the question. I was stumped.

I don’t call myself a poet. When I share a piece with my writers group, I say dub it a “poem” or a free-style-poetry-thing. I’ve never felt enough to call myself a poet. Or a writer. 

When people ask what I do for a living, I say I’m a copywriter.

Even though it triggers conversations I’d rather swivel away from, it’s also a digestible way to avoid admitting the twelve hours I spend in a day on a computer… writing. Copy for websites, blogs, articles, ads, and whatnot, gleaning whatever time I can get to write the snappier, shorter stuff that pleases me: self-declared haiku, short stories, and the occasional “poetry”.

“I just—write stuff.” 

The poet smiled, letting it reach her slender eyes, perched elegantly on the edge of her blemish-free face. So unlike my own sunken ones.

She respected my insecurity.

However, she did mention later that we’re all poets, regardless of where or how or how much work we’ve published, introducing me to another as a poet, shooting a thrill down my spine. I smiled and let the statement wash over me, unregistering its impact.

Later, mulling it over, as I do everything these days, I straightened, my gut clenching, the tiniest sense of pride creeping up my face. And I fought to contain the idea lapping my heart: me a poet. 

Do I dare?

A milestone

When I was about 13, I decided I wanted to write—to be a published novelist.

Then life happened. Luckily, however, I still wanted to write. That’s how this blog came about, and ever since I’ve been writing plenty of self-declared short stories, opinions, random musings, and travel thoughts.

Moving to Canberra took my writing to a whole new level. I joined a writers group, and thanks to being exposed to incredible poetic talent, the embers of my poetry began to flare up. As a result, I’ve been writing and experimenting a lot with free verse poetic forms.

Now I’m super thrilled and proud to say that with the help of my incredible writers group, I’ve managed to get in on an anthology of womxn’s poetry from all over the world.

Published by Animal Heart Press, the book is called From The Ashes. It’s co-edited by Amanda McLeod and Mela Blust.

Preorder the book here