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Young Poets Society

Young poets are coming together across urban India to rediscover, reinvent and reimagine the language of metaphors in unconventional non-academic spaces.

books Updated: Jun 23, 2012 17:43 IST

Amidst the bustle of the city, if you come across people reading out their work in parks or coffee shops to appreciative ‘wah-wahs’, claps and hoots, don’t be surprised. It’s just one of many poetry clubs with enthusiastic members in their twenties that have been mushrooming in urban centres across India.

These groups have taken poetry out of the expected setting of conventional readings and literary festivals, of kavi sammelans and mushairas and in a sense, democratised it. For these enthusiasts, brought together by a shared love of rhythm and metre, the aim is to create a space outside academia and established circles patronised by the publishing industry where young inexperienced poets can present their work, discuss technique and style, and hone their talent.

Young poetry clubs like Mulaqaat and Lump in the Throat in Delhi, Loquations and The Poetry Corner in Mumbai, The Young Poets Club in Chennai, Yuva Gosthi in Bangalore and Bottola in Kolkata have taken poetry out of books to form bigger circles of poets and audiences in public spaces.

“It’s a brilliant idea and I hope a thousand groups bloom and a thousand schools of poetry contend,” says journalist and Indian English poet Jerry Pinto. “One of the most important things is to get other people’s opinions, to hear your poems read aloud even if by yourself, to listen to others, and receive criticism from other poets,” he adds.

The trend isn’t restricted to Hindi or English. Regional languages too are seeing something of an efflorescence with young writers infusing new life into regional poetry. Efforts are being made to provide translations, hold workshops, and even include elements of showmanship into events through dancers, musicians and artists. These ‘happenings’ have begun to attract large audiences generous with feedback. The sense of community that these interactions foster could help in sustaining poets who struggle with lack of interest in the form and poor publishing returns.

“Poetry  meets should be encouraged. Rather than repetitive publishing of old poets we should promote new poets,” says Ankur Betagiri, Assistant Editor, Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi,  who believes young people passionate about poetry will bring it back into the mainstream.

“Young poets need support. Their societies, if not ideologically exclusive, are welcome. Visions and passions must be plural and sharable,” says veteran Hindi poet and essayist Ashok Vajpeyi.

Urdu poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar believes much good will emerge from informal groups of young people dabbling in poetry. “That young talents are making such efforts is worth appreciating. Now there is a lot of taiyaari and this trend will attain heights,” he says.

Pinto believes the only possible downside could be groups where everyone wants to read their work but is unwilling to listen. “Some young people might say, ‘I don’t read poetry; I write it’. That would be ridiculous. Can you imagine a musician saying, “I don’t listen to music; I only play?” he says.

While many inexperienced poets might struggle to achieve their own version of Wordsworth’s ‘spontaneous overflow of emotion’ and while groups might occasionally degenerate into mutual admiration societies, there is little doubt that the resurgent interest in poetry bodes well for many languages. Few poets have succeeded in converting their words into riches and wordsmiths have almost always had to depend on day jobs. Being  part of a group with a shared passion for prosody might not change that situation but can definitely cut the wretched isolation of a poet’s life.

Breaking away from narrow conceptions

Formed in November 2010 by Rati Agnihotri, a television script writer and a few young poets, the Moonweavers group intended to initiate discourse about poetry in the city. They began with a few Sunday sessions at Indian Coffee House in  Connaught Place reading their works and freewheeling discussions — ranging from the importance of rhyme in poetry to the difference in tropes of English and Urdu poetry to a fervent discussion on Anna Hazare (notwithstanding the apparent non-relation to poetry)!

Says Rati, “Our idea is not to stick to a narrow conception of poetry but to discuss everything that might possibly trigger a poetic consciousness. Poetry is not developed in a vacuum; a poet’s views on culture, society, politics, etc all manifest themselves in their poetry. That is, there are both English as well as Urdu/Hindi poets. This leads to interesting scenarios wherein sometimes, an English poem has to be on the spot translated for a Hindi poet and vice- versa.”

The poets could sing, act out their poems and can also perform them with music. The entire range of simplistic rhymes with very easy vocabulary, to elaborate and intricate poetry is created in the meetings. Also, growth is noticed in the poets as they are exposed to different and new styles, some of which are often tailored, and improved. Often, one poet’s voice resonates the entire group’s. Strictly a poetry open-mic, there is no stand-up comedy or other expression allowed. They are also planning to do specific events like workshops, talks, tutorials and collaborations with dancers and musicians.

Their upcoming event, the 5th Poetry Open Mic, will take place at The Attic on 27th June.

Shaping a new generation of Indian poets

At the Urdu Markaz in Bhendi Bazaar, a group of amateur poets, most in their twenties, and a lone senior poet meet once in three months to discuss poetry. Initiated five years ago by poet-writer Zubair Azmi, 43, they aim to promote Urdu poetry and fiction. Apart from reading their work, discussing different styles such as Japanese haiku, Sanskrit verse and work of Kalidasa, the group also seeks feedback from ustads  on writing techniques and ways to expression.

24-year-old Shaikh Heena who is pursuing a master’s degree in Urdu literature and has been writing poetry since she was 10 years old hopes these discussions will help her get published. “I am learning a lot,” she says adding that ustads add interesting flavour to the discussion.

Another member, Dr Mohammad Malkani, 28, a consulting physician, bagged third prize in a poetry competition run in an urdu magazine called Pakeeza Aanchal last year. “Whether it is a sher, a nazm or a ghazal, we discuss everything,” says Malkani. Senior Urdu poet and filmmaker Sohail Akhtar, 47, believes these groups active in different regional languages and pan-Indian Urdu and Hindi are shaping Indian poetry. “The different styles of poems that we discuss makes for a great learning experience not just for the young but also senior poets,” he says.

— Riddhi Doshi

Going beyond linguistic sophistication

Poetry groups are not new in Kolkata. They centre around irregularly published non-commercial magazines, popularly known as ‘little magazines’. 10 years ago, seven students from North Kolkata came together to publish one called Pratishedhak which translates into “antidote” in English. Celebrating their tenth year the group came out with six poetry books, Elach opera thekey (From the Wine Concerto).

“The more I get irritated and frustrated with daily life, the more I devote myself to writing and the group,” says schoolteacher Saurav Chattopadhyay (29), a founder member. The group  meets once or twice a month.

“Our literature has shocked our parents as we don’t care about linguistic sophistication.” said Soham Nandi, who already has two books to his credit.

Sayan Sarkar, who finished middle school this year, is the youngest member. Poetry drags him deeper into life while making his mother wor