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JLF 2015: Poets, the unacknowledged legislators of the world

Pulitzer-winning poet Vijay Seshadri, who delivered the keynote address at the eighth Jaipur Literature Festival, believes poetry is as deep as critical thinking.

books Updated: Jan 22, 2015 18:10 IST
Pathikrit Sen Gupta

The eighth Jaipur Literature Festival kicked off with a heady concoction of rhyme and reason on Wednesday with three celebrated authors talking about 'Poetic Imagination', as the Pink City rolled out the red carpet to a bevy of eminent writers, politicians and Bollywood celebrities.

Delivering the keynote address, Pulitzer-winning poet Vijay Seshadri, 60, said the subject was a fearsome one, doubly so in a country like India with its present course of development.

"When I come to India, I feel I have to account for the culture in some way," the Brooklyn-based author elaborated.

A packed house listened to Seshadri, with more than 200,000 people expected to attend the five-day event, the world's largest free literary festival.

Poetic imagination was imagination in its organic essence and not something magical that dwells in readers' hearts, said the Bengaluru-born Seshadri.

"It is as deep as a critical thinking discussion on an issue of national importance," the former editor of The New Yorker said.

"Poets, however, continue to be the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

Sahitya Akademi Award winner Ashok Vajpeyi, 73, disagreed with Seshadri, saying, "I believe it's the other way round, that poets are legislators of the unacknowledged world."

"It goes beyond saying that like any piece of fiction, poems are half-truths, half imagination some are half conclusions too. Poems are like stones, some hit hard some hit slow," he said.

Poet and translator Arvind Krishna Mehrotra struck a more pragmatic note, saying the poetic imagination was another name for the everyday world of sight and sound.

"A poet is not a dreamer. He walks the firm earth," said the 67-year-old, who has translated more than 200 Prakrit poems.

China-born British author Jung Chang, former President APJ Abdul Kalam, actor Naseeruddin Shah, playwright Girish Karnad, Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, travel writer Paul Theroux and Oscar-nominated screenwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi are some of the participants at the festival.