Poetry with Prakriti 2017: Talking language with Allan Sealy

Jaideep Sen Published :  30th November 2017 06:27 PM   |   Published :   |  30th November 2017 06:27 PM
Allan Sealy

Allan Sealy

An interaction with the poet Allan Sealy, 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 gulf between English and the regional languages seems set to widen, so translation remains the pressing need of the moment. I suspect good regional poets are sometimes be pushed into a lacklustre translation of their own work simply out of a desire to be heard.

It’s probably a good idea to resist such an impulse, since few poets are blessed with pitch perfect bilingualism of an Arun Kolatkar. Patience is sometimes rewarded as with Sampurna Chattarji’s translations of Joy Goswami’s work into English. Of course, the bind hurts both ways: those trapped in the universe of English are equally impoverished.

Tell us a little about your plans at the Prakriti Festival. What can audiences expect, given your participation at the event?
I will be reading from my latest work, a verse novella, Zelaldinus (Aleph, 2017), set in Fatehpur Sikri. It is essentially a conversation with the ghost of Akbar about the India of today; along the way it develops into the story of a cross border romance with a crackling climax on the Indo-Pak border in the Rann of Kutch.

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? 
A medium as dense and compacted as poetry will not always yield its meaning at one go; approached on the page it allows a second and third pass. The public reading must forgo that luxury and work with other kinds of emphasis, and here the voice is an instrument of projection that can compensate for loss at the surface. Zelaldinus is in fact a dramatic piece, much of it spoken, that takes the form of a courtly masque.

How is poetry gaining significance as a form of protest, in the present day? How can activism through poetry be more effective?
Certainly, the global reach of the internet and its many specific penetrations allow the poet greater access to an audience than was once possible, so a political poet will find readers (and listeners in the case of podcasts) in new and removed places including social media. But in the end, activism in art is no better (or worse) than quietism; the ultimate receptor is the individual listener who will judge and decide whether poetry can be used as a crowbar.

Allan Sealy & Jayanta Mahapatra will perform a reading, at Amdavadi, on Monday, Dec 11, 7 pm.