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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

06 March, 2008

Poetry audiences - a discussion [Part 2]

Annie Zaidi:

Hi Priya

I had been thinking hard about the things you said in your mail to Peter and while I saw it as the impassioned and immediate response it was, I did think that there is much to think about. Here is what I wrote back to Peter (slightly edited):

"I do agree with most of what she says in terms of attendance and poetry events and community building. See, I'm a professional journalist and a working poet (though unlike a certain [name deleted], I don't go about introducing myself as a 'working' poet, because it is understood that I am working on being one, if I am one.) And there are at least three times as many book launches and readings here in Delhi than there in Mumbai, I think - though this may not be true of poetry specifically, since Mumbai has more better-known poets writing in English. I don't make it to all but I do try and make it to at least the poetry events, especially if organised by someone I know or if a contemporary is participating.

This is what 'community' is about. A community stands up for you, supports you. You often trade within a community. Many of us have gone to some trouble to seek such a community of writers, and it is for this reason - because it lends us purpose and makes us feel that what we're doing is important. Perhaps our community is small, but to these 30 or 50 people, it matters that a new book of poems is out, or that a new poet-performer is in town. Otherwise, why have launches? Why perform? Why read? We might as well sit at home and read to the walls.

If I do not attend other people's events, why should anyone come to mine?


Even a genius will be die undiscovered and unsung, if he is not willing to get out there and be part of the community. Even Ghalib attended mushairas.


But this also seems to be increasingly true of writers and launches here. I see the most thickly-attended ones are the ones with free cocktails. Which is understandable sometimes - a high-profile event like the Vikram Chandra launch at the Taj. Or even a blah event at the British Council. You don't like the work that much, but there will be drinks and bonding with other writers, later.

But at Sampurna and Sridala's reading at the Sahitya Akademy here, there was only chai and since I got there later, I did not get even a cup of chai, and it did not matter. The toilets - like in all government offices - smell, but it did not matter. There were about forty people or fifty, some were friends and supporters, and some young emerging Delhi poets, and it felt good to see them there. We had no role to play barring that of listeners and buyers, and we played it. The evening was good.

Now, we cannot do this every day but we can do this every other week or even every weekend. As poets, as writers, as aspirants, this is part of the package.

And I think we have to start communicating this to the Caferati crowd. If you want to be a poet and want appreciation and want people to buy real books, learn to reciprocate. Learn that there will be jobs and family and distances but if you want to be part of the poetic community, in the real world, then get out and negotiate the rules of the real world.


Maybe we need to initiate a discussion about this on Caf. If you like, I will do it.

And I would like to begin with just these three questions - do you want your own book out some day? how many poetry/literary events have you shown up for? how many poetry books have you bought last year?

What say?


[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.]

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