Observing that it is often in times when poetry is impossible, that the best kind of poetry is written, pioneering Malayalam poet and theorist K. Satchidandan said it was important to be able to hurt and affect sentiments in an increasingly charged and gentrified world.
“The freedom to disturb and agitate is one of the most important rights a poet has, especially in the history we find ourselves living in today. Poetry is the freedom to conceive, to create alternative worlds, different ways of seeing, going beyond reality to escape it. Or perhaps even oppose the real and inhabit other realities,” said Satchidanandan, during a thought-provoking evening conversation here on Saturday.
“Though it is but words, poetry is ultimately an act of imagination and a kind of conversation. To use meter, rhythm, metaphor, rhyme, syntax, structure, style and imagery to follow or break with diktats and rejuvenate and recreate language in order to make apparent the invisible,” he added.
He listed a number of ‘freedoms’ crucial to the expression of poetic license, develop idiom and voice, linking them to contemporary concerns. “Poets need the freedom to relate to the world in their own terms, to respond to world events, situations and contexts in their own ways and to use language as they see fit,” said Satchidandan, one of the 45 participating poets at the Vak: Raza Biennale of Indian Poetry.
The scholarly panel discussion, titled ‘Poetry as Freedom’, was held at the Triveni Kala Sangam as part of the three-day Biennale. The first-of-its-kind celebration of verse in the country was organised by the Raza Foundation – set up by the late master artist Sayed Haider Raza in 2001 and helmed by eminent Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, the Managing Trustee.
Citing the importance of the discussion, Vajpeyi said, “Poetry is perhaps the best embodiment of the ideals of freedom. It has become all the more crucial today when there are many curbs on freedom of expression and in a world where the idea of freedom has been divorced from ideas of equality and justice.”
Vajpeyi moderated the hour-long conversation, which also featured prominent educationist and former NCERT director Krishna Kumar, award-winning author and academic Ananya Vajpeyi and Apoorvanand, renowned professor of Hindi at Delhi University.
Describing poetry as the “last refuge” against tendencies of systemic oppression and reductionism, Ananya Vajpeyi traced the influence poets and their works have exercised on the sub-continent across epochs.
“Poetry has always been an assertion of inalienable freedoms. Where the Bhakti tradition produced poetry of both love and liberation – seeking the freedom of the self from the shackles that pervade the human condition, the songs and poems and values of icons like Tagore and Iqbal, among others, characterised and consumed the struggle for political freedom from the 19th Century onwards,” Ananya Vajpeyi said.
Among the threats to the “capacity for poetry” today, she said, are arbitrary arrests and incarcerations and the growing institutionalisation and prevalence of punitive retaliation.
Apoorvanand lamented the need to talk about freedom in this, the 70th year of Independence, contending that was nevertheless the duty of poets to be “bound inextricably with the fates and caprices of the human condition: to be in the thick of things”.
“This struggle makes the labour inherent to the act of imagination palpable since a poet is always a raconteur, excavator and collector of the unrealised possibilities,” he said.
For Krishna Kumar, changes to colonial-era structures of pedagogical instruction would help spread awareness of the distinctness of poetry and its importance as both medium and agent of expression and experimentation.
“As a subject that demands engagement and independent inquiry, poetry is associated with freedom of judgement and equality between practitioner and listener in the presence of o
bjective facts. But if literature, including poetry, is taught solely through the authority of teacher and textbook as the traditional means of applying prescriptive curriculum, it loses its original, distinctive character and value as a counter to top-down control in both classroom and public space,” he said.
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