This is me thinking aloud. Coherence will not be my strong point here.
What is poetry? Rahul asks. Increasingly, my answer to a question like that one, in my own mind is, when you meet it you recognise it. How, though?
One form of recognition is physical. The body reacts before the mind has sorted out 'meaning'. Some lines give me goose pimples:
Send paper, friend, these are the last pages
of my journal I'm writing on.
('Ghalib in the Winter of the Great Revolt'. Ranjit Hoskote)
....At eighteen hundred
degrees Farenheit, no loss is unimaginable.
('Kiln'. Sampurna Chattarji)
Or the ones where realisation comes, like deja vu, a second late; sensation reiterated:
Trees arrive at themselves,
each one ready
to give an account of its leaves.
(No. 8, from 'Pi Dog'. Arun Kolatkar)
...a swollen, gusting sheet—
revenant in sunlight—
('Sea Ode'. Sudesh Mishra)
Those that make one cry or want to do something, that inspire a surge of energy :
Dear Runu, everything moves here
but nothing really comes.
('Predicament'. Jayanta Mahapatra)
I could match her now, word for word.
I could meet her now, on equal terms. I think
I could draw blood.
('Lines on Meeting a Cousin, Long-Lost'. Revathy Gopal)
Even taken out of their context some words hold the power of recognition. We would know them anywhere. Even if we knew nothing else about it or what it meant, we would know (like the pi dog in Kolatkar's poem) the words Tat savitur varenyam/Bhargo devasya Dheemahi/Dhiyo yonah prachodayat. Does this mean poetry lies in the interstices of one's own, unique memory? And when the words that fit are found, the experience is called 'poetry'?
Perhaps words gain power when they achieve resonance in the listener's mind. Here, meaning and sound are as close as they can be without becoming one. And yet they are not - cannot be - because in the delay between sound and meaning is where both sensation and understanding lie.
And yet, context is everything. I can imagine that not everybody is moved by the Gayatri mantra. I can imagine that someone reading the lines I have quoted above, will ask what the big deal is. Perhaps poetry is delayed reaction. When the experience is acquired, recognition comes.
All this sounds very mysterious. What of the kind of poetry that is deliberately cerebral and playful?
('Genderole'. Rukmini Bhaya Nair)
10 syllables each line - as against the sloka's traditional 16 - but with words running together until they have to be separated to make sense of. (I can imagine the invention of sandhis in English to ease the transition between two words and make them one.) A puzzle, in effect; a way of saying, 'look at these words that I have put together for you to take apart.'* A way of making literal the game of poetry. If the puzzle is too easy it is unsatisfying. But difficulty is a matter of experience.
Exhiliration. Somehow that's a cerebral pay-off, the experience of it. Tears don't exhilirate you; they might produce exaltation but that's different - that's cathartic, a matter of ridding the body. To experience exhiliration is to be in the body and watch it contain immensity.
*tease 'em apart, n!
Monday, September 08, 2008
Posted by Space Bar at 9:24 AM