We’re on a terrace and treetops surround us. A and I are talking about a slam event I recently attended. The man sitting next to A, whose name I can never remember, butts in when he hears the mention of poetry. It then becomes apparent that this man, let’s call him J, is, surprise surprise, a writer of poems! ‘So what sort of poetry do you write?’ I ask, trying to be polite.
‘Oh, conventional poetry,’ he replies, with an air of great importance and perhaps even greater artistry.
‘I see. Do you mean metrical poetry?’
‘Yes, that. But I also write free verse. You know, you can’t just write anything and call it free verse. My writing has a lot of rigour in it.’
His thesis thus launched, continues as follows:
‘I did a creative writing course at X University in England. My teacher was Y, a genius if there ever was one. So much goes into writing poetry. There’s rhythm, and the kind of language. 80% of what I write I destroy. It’s just not up to the mark. And I write copiously. But there’s so much work one has to put into it. You really can’t call anything free verse…’
Relatives have come to visit my grandmother. After a more or less pleasant hour, they get up to leave and I come out my room to wish them, be a good Indian girl as it were. They make the required polite enquiries, ‘What are you doing now? What are your plans for the future?’
My father chooses to answer for me, explaining that I’m applying for my Masters, and oh, that I recently won some sort of award for my poetry. ‘Oh, really! Congratulations!’ says the middle-aged man, clearly struggling for my name.
After some laughing and patting of backs, the man says, ‘You know, you should be a novelist. Become like Arundhati Roy, get a big book deal, win a Booker. That’s what our young Indian women should do these days.’
My mother is in the kitchen. She is cooking something with a resigned look on her face.
‘Ming, you won’t believe it! My poems are going to be in Z magazine! You have NO idea how amazing that is.’ I jump around like a bean.
‘Nice,’ she says. ‘Are you going to get paid?’
It’s been going well so far. The conversation is taking a surprising turn, however, and he looks at me, says, ‘I don’t read poetry. I never will. It’s dated. It doesn’t make sense. What’s the point of it really?’
I’m at Mrs Stephens’s house. She used to help me with math when I was in high school. Recently I borrowed some books from her to study for the GRE. Now that I’m done with the books and relieved that I got a decent score, I can relax and talk about what sort of degree I want. Mrs Stephens, one of my all-time favourite teachers, says, ‘You should’ve been a chartered accountant.’
All situations are real.
To be fair, the first conversation was interesting in an amusing sort of way. The person in question seems an earnest sort, and very like me in the way that he is serious about writing. I just hope that I don’t come across so devoid of humour. I like to think that I can laugh at myself. And what really annoyed me was the way he assumed that everyone present was an intellectual cretin, that no one knew what poetry — hold it, free verse — was. Thanks for the lecture, boss, but that’s really not why I was interested in your work.
Re: situation 3, I really do get excited about magazines. It’s a great pleasure to me if an editor thinks my poems are worth publishing. I don’t hold myself aloof from that sort of thing.
Overall, I think the blog and a few trusted friends suffice for good poetry conversation. You never know where things can lead, and I don’t to be rude to people I hardly know.
In other news, I am embarking on some serious poetry learning with someone I recently met. I mean, I have homework and reading assignments.
In bean-jumping news, the editors of Eclectica have nominated my poem ‘Campsite’ for the Sundress Best of the Net Anthology. I know, I know, it’s just a nomination, but it’s my first and I’m happy. Do check out their latest issue.