Poetry audiences - a discussion [Part 1]
Background: At the Bombay launch of 50 Poets 50 Poems, attendance was low; Priya says there were more press than audience members there, I counted a dozen people, aside from the eight people on stage, the young man who was helping sell the books, and the chai lad.
The principals in this discussion have agreed to put this up on the Caferati blog and invite a larger discussion. We're hoping that you folks could bring in your take on the topic; your opinions, your perspectives from different events in different cities. Feel free to comment, or to mail any or all of us.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria:
Thank you for participating in the PEN 50Poets50Poems launch. All the other Bombay poets too who were in the anthology who weren't abroad made it a point to participate. This was excellent. I appreciate your show of solidarity especially as you had to traverse great distances to be present. You had also said that some from the Caferati group would be present. However, none showed.You possibly were perturbed by this.
Why a single poet/ poetry aficionado/ wannabe didn't showed is a matter to ponder on because such an assembly of poets is exceptional.( Indeed, we had more press that poets!) But first I ask myself: do I attend enough of such literary events? My answer is yes. Also a launch of a poetry anthology in the hallowed PEN "prescient" is an event to celebrate. For any writer worth the name, PEN is significant.. The evening, to me, was a matter of keeping faith with one's art, with the art of poetry, the spaces that support it and with the reality of living.
As you are a leading moderator of the active and large Caferati group I direct the following enquiries to you:
Is the online community of poets/ poetry lovers 'self-sufficient' in the sense that such readings/launches are no longer required by blog tribalism? I do not use the word 'tribalism' in a disparaging manner, rather to imply close affinities that are sustaining though small. Also, as this group,comprising of young poets --and those who want to make the grade-- is active in its writing and critiquing of poetry, one would have thought that such an experience would be enriching to them. Since the evening kicked off with Adil J reading his poem and Arvind's, I shall employ just this case to make my point. Beside contextualizing his own poem, Adil's deep inquiry into Arvind's references and imagination, I found made my day. I'd have thought younger poets too could have gain from this. Also from the manner in which poems are read aloud/declaimed/ articulated. A range of this, too, occurred.
I can understand none of the C group attending if they trash the work of all the poets reading. This is perfectly acceptable. But do they know the work of these poets well enough to trash it all? Or are the reasons darker and smaller? I'm speaking both of hiding in the paltry 'I-me-myself" syndrome of closure and safety by not attending, and the fear of nails being worn down by slog that's on display on such an occasion. I'm also speaking of perhaps not loving, passionately, intensely enough , the art that makes one be-- which is necessary to commit to in order to improve and seek. These are deep and troubling questions.
I ask also because through discussions that occurred later I was enlightened to the fact that most of the recent readings in Bombay ( except those announced as events with, possibly, cocktails through in) are very poorly attended. If it is imperative that in order to attend, the platform must extend to permit one to read from one's work, no matter how recent a 'poet' one is, then we must rethink the very idea of launches and readings. We must, indeed, rethink the very idea of listening and sharing and growing. We must, by extension, dismiss words like rigour, experiment, form and love from our vocabulary and substitute these perhaps with words like laziness and anything goes or ... We should stop believing that poetry is a sacred and necessary impulse that enables one to live.
This I do not accept.
Poets are practical people; we are deeply embedded in reality, I know we seek clarity at all times. I agree:there must be other reasons too --such as weekday, traffic snarls , personal problems etc. that came into play. I too have missed a film, an art opening, even book launches because of such petty inconveniences. But did ever one's dog die on the evening of the antho launch when so many poets were reading at a PEN event?
Had I taken the evening to be personal, merely celebrating my achievementas an editor I would not be so concerned.
I look forward to your response.
[Priya Chabria's original mail, Annie Zaidi's reply, a short reply from Priya C, in which your correspondent drones on and on and on., Sampurna Chattarji's take, some more thoughts from Annie, Vivek Narayanan's view.]