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Poetry and I

For most of my mature life my feelings towards poetry have alternated between acute infatuation and mildly contemptuous indifference. The former because in moments of search for deeper meaning and values in life, I have felt elated by poetry because it meant rising above the ordinary, shallow, mundane, into heights of esthetic experience; and the latter because I realised the limitation, the lofty presumptuousness of this form of written expression. There were days, even years when I would marvel, feel stunned and worshipful reading Baudelaire, Hugo, Grey, Wordsworth, Byron, Shakespeare, Tagore, Johnson and others and childishly spend very many secret moments trying to produce my own work which would clearly be discernible as only poor copies in thought and style of the master, depending upon my impressionability with one or another at a particular time.

And then there were other times when I felt that what elevated poetry above prose was not the superiority of the former in significance, clarity, or brevity in communicating a thought or an idea, but the basic vanity of man's nature which insisted on identifying the difficult with the greater, regardless of the ultimate worth of the result. I felt that a thought that could be conveyed directly, easily, succinctly by prose had to be twisted, arranged in a confusing, broken, melodramatic way, often resulting in total want of clarity or correctness for the sake of rhyming in order to be called poetry, and to be recognised as a more sublime, ennobling, scholarly and refined form of expression. It seemed utterly preposterous to me that one went to the unnecessary trouble of writing a thought into poetry merely in order to analyse, understand and appreciate it with the help of prose. I always wondered helplessly why such a thought could not be conveyed directly by prose in the first place.

However, even during moments of my outrage, I ungrudgingly allowed one exception: the poetry that was lyrical or could be sung to some melody had at least a justification for its creation inasmuch as it transformed a prosaic idea into an esthetic form and therefore separated itself from prose in its distinctiveness.

Finally I overcame this love-hate relationship by making peace with poetry in an unexpectedly simple manner: I redefined my sense of what poetry should mean: for me, therefore, any thought however prosaic, when it could be conveyed in fewer words, in a select, pregnant, enriched manner, became poetry. If I could reduce an expression of emotion, thought, puzzlement into fewer words, stylistically arranged to enhance the depth of their significance, it became poetry for me. This meant that poetry assumed two concepts: one, a condensed, concentrated, prose; another melodious, lyrical expression; what was neither had to be dismissed as a pretense or an apology for mediocrity.

Perhaps it is only a subjective attitude which underrates poetry. But for me, I have lost the capacity to pretend to any other understanding acceptable to my rationality or sensibility.

My poetry therefore reflects this truce: any deeply experienced or sensed emotional or objective phenomena that I can express in fewer words than in ordinary prose, I have audaciously called poetry. My work therefore does not conform to any set rules, if there any unknown to me, except the one I have created, perhaps like any other, before me, and almost certainly, after me.

ramesh gandhi

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