Poetry with Prakriti 2017: Anand Thakore on literary traditions
An interaction with the poet Anand Thakore, leading up to the festival Poetry with Prakriti 2017, set to be held from December 3-17, across multiple venues in Chennai.
How do you see the space for poetry changing and evolving in India - specifically, for regional language poetry alongside writing in English?
The space for poetry on the Indian subcontinent has been evolving only very slowly over the last 20 years or so. Yes, there are more poets writing today, both in English and the regional languages – than there were back then, but I do not see any evidence of a qualitative leap, a cultural growth that is really worth speaking of. Though we have more writers, we also have fewer serious readers and connoisseurs of the art form.
Essentially, so far as poetry is concerned, we have a strange, somewhat claustrophobic milieu in which almost nobody reads poetry, but poets themselves. And as far as the new generation is concerned, the widespread lack of familiarity with both contemporary and canonical literature at an international level, given the sudden availability of poetry on the internet is rather disturbing.
We have more writers and fewer serious readers, and this cannot be a healthy sign for the evolution of poetry or the arts, in general. I also observe a compulsive need on the part of regional-language poets to be imitative of contemporary Anglo-American models, which strangely goes hand-in-hand with an unfortunate ignorance of older and broader Western literary traditions.
Tell us a little about your plans at the Prakriti Festival. What can audiences expect, given your participation at the event?
I am looking forward to reading my work, particularly among students – of literature, and of other disciplines. Audience involvement at colleges can be unpredictable – though, usually, one does find the odd student who is really inspired or motivated by a reading.
Would you consider poetry readings to be rather similar to performance art pieces? How does the performative aspect of a public reading change things in terms of engaging listeners, and disseminating and offering poetry?
Performance plays its role, of course, in the business of reaching one’s readers. It is important for me however, to separate poetry from the performing arts. Good verse has to work on the page, in the absence of the poet’s body – or it just can’t be good verse. I'm particularly conscious of this, perhaps, because I am a proffessional Hindustani classical singer with lots of stage experience.
Singing in public is necessarily about performance, in a restricted sense of the word – poetry, on the other hand, need not be. In fact, I often feel it's a relief from the high intensity of performance situations, from the necessary physical presence of an immediate audience, which is not to say either, that I don’t enjoy reading my verse in public. I do.
How is poetry gaining significance as a form of protest, in the present day? How can activism through poetry be more effective?
All I have to say is that a huge amount of bad poetry is being written today in the name of activism and protest. Whereas the spirit of protest is central to the act of composing verse, there is an important distinction (widely overlooked) between good poetry and flag-waving, ideologically motivated trash.
The difference between crass-sloganeering and art needs to be looked at seriously again, I believe. Our contemporary literary culture seems to be turning increasingly blind to the distinction.
Anand Thakore will perform a reading along with Ramu Ramanathan and Renuka Narayanan, at Wandering Artist, on Tuesday December 12, 7 pm.