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Can Poetry be Dead? @ Link Wanderlust

Although poetry is popular, it’s very niche. This is a relatively new phenomenon, Michael Lind says in his essay The Re-Enchantment of Poetry in The Smart Set. Poetry has always been a favorite, the precursor of song, poetry has a rhythm that can carry us through good times and bad.

But now no newspaper will carry a poem. No popular channel will host a poetry grand slam during prime time. If you mention that you are a poet, you have to be good enough an actor to pull it off.  It’s so mysterious that it seems to have disappeared from the popular space altogether.

So the question is: Why has poetry lost its appeal?

There are several reasons for this.

Poetry is all about the spoken word performance; it’s no Rossetta stone that needs deciphering. The New Critics may have done too good a job at understanding a poem; teachers have taken this into their lesson plans and deconstructed poems to the extent that these are no longer poems but syntactical structures and metrical inconsistencies. The truth is that poetry is beautiful only because you can not clearly understand it, the way life eludes us.

Another reason could be silent reading. The words that echo in your mind spoil the experience; poetry has to be read aloud. Because it is no longer read aloud except at readings, poetry has become a more visual form; rhyme and rhythm have been discarded in favor of the prosaic, and so reading these poems that are based on visual cues will lead us nowhere close to the metrical enjoyment that once upon a time verse provided.

It’s never too late though. All the poet has to do is sing again.

“If a post-print oral and aural culture of the kind predicted by Marshall McLuhan eventually does arise, then perhaps a kind of popular and accessible verse like that of Homeric bards or Norse skalds or modern rap and popular songs will evolve.”



Flying kites and the Language of Poetry @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 3)

71D8UrIC+rL._SL500_SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Vaishali, who co-hosted the party with us, was in search of August, the Month of Winds (Translated from the Russian by Raissa Bobrova). It was a book that she read when she was young, the kind of story that makes an imprint on you, one so deep, that when she spoke of the blind boy in a serious story for children it was almost as though she were flying a kite of her imagination and the story though unavailable to her any longer as a physical copy was forever accessible in a single heart.

Language has a remarkable ability to transport one elsewhere, even in translation. Baraa Al Mansour, a Syrian writer of a book called Look Around You spoke about how Arabic is a language of emotion. “Once  when I was in China,” she said “I saw and beautiful girl and told her that she was beautiful like the moon. That was a little too much, I later understood.” Although she writes in English, her sentiment translates another language.

Shyamala, the wildlife artist, agreed that Arabic was more like French. “May Sarton, a French writer,  preferred to write poetry in French as poetry was too easy. The craft came to her in English”

Baraa expressed how translation could create a distance from true meaning, but even awkward literal translations worked better sometimes as it was closer home to the real thing.
My_Story_Kamala_DasAbhaya who is an ardent reader of Hindi poetry prefers raw untranslated mother tongue as far as poetry goes, “Nothing beats Braj Bhasha poetry,” he said bringing up the true Hindi speech which has ever since been diluted by multiple tongues. He found the case of Kamala Das intriguing. She wrote a great deal of  poetry in English and prose in Malayalam, her mother tongue, Malayalam, a language of southern India as well. The book that Abhaya was reading at the time was a translated version of her prose called My Story, a controversial book. “Perhaps she was able to say things in English poetry that she couldn’t express in Malayalam,” he mused.

“Well as they, you can speak French to your lover, English to an accountant and German to your horse,” Shyamala said. In terms of precision, there is no better language than German as the adage goes.

Cover of "How to Read a Book (A Touchston...In one of the books I had got to the party How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren), there was a section about how to read poetry.  I’ve talked about this book earlier on this blog— it’s a mandatory read for readers of books, as so many times we read books in a hurry and words are lost on us.  Instead of reading becoming an exercise in futility, it is best if we pay attention when we are reading by using a highlighter or a pencil.

When you read a poem, it is best to read it aloud (even plays should be read, Abhaya added). What sounds like gobbledygook makes sense when you listen to the rhythm of the words. A poet wouldn’t necessarily want to make sense in a rational way, so she must be read and listened to with an open mind. Incidentally Shyamala mentioned a book by Adler which focused on how to listen. The book is called How to Speak How to Listen. The interesting thing about listening is how it can be an exercise in formulating your own response rather than paying attention to what the other person is saying.

Attentive listening reaps rewards. The post script to this party was that Nilesh dug up August, The Month of Winds, a book that Vaishali so much craved.

Have you had any happy book surprises you want to share?


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How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren) – Part 2

How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J.Adler and Charles Van Doren) – Part 1

I must admit that reading How to Read a Book is a test in itself- it is a very large book with an almost text book-like aspect. A book I enjoyed but in a different way, being attentive at all times while reading as advised, with X-Ray eyes.

There are some fundamental reading rules outlined:

  • Classify the book according to its kind and subject matter.
  • State what the whole book is about with utmost brevity.
  • Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation.
  • Define the problems the author is trying to solve and see whether he has solved them.

Variations of these rules apply to reading all kinds of books- non-fiction and fiction included.

A large part of this book is dedicated to rules of observation required to make an active reader of you. When you read a book, find the key words. Identify the key sentence. What is the author’s proposition? Translate your reading of the book. Are the author omissions deliberate?

So a reader is more than this


And more of

Reader Marking

So my dear reader, you must try hard when you read and it’s not only the author who has to sweat over that one sentence. It’s you as well.

And book reviewers of which now the world has hordes, remember that novelty, sensationalism and seductiveness are not as important while you write down what you think of a book- the truth is what matters. No contradictions are required- thoughtful minds that ‘weigh and consider’ are what books need.

What about reading aids? Related reading is always a good idea, an idea that the authors reiterate. Reading commentaries and using reference guides like encyclopedias and dictionaries can only hamper the first reading of the book, though reading such books add to the landscape of your mind. It is no heroic feat to rush to the dictionary every time you come across a difficult word in your first reading- it is a waste of time.

How do you read?

There is a way to read every sort of book from mathematics to philosophy. For instance, reading imaginative literature and reading a mathematics treatise is very different indeed. You can afford to be less analytical while reading War and Peace than when you attempt Euclid’s Book I of Elements. Similarly a poem is not unreadable if you follow these steps- read it through in one sitting, preferably read it aloud, find the unity in the poem and discover the conflict of images. A poem requires work, but like all other kinds of literature, you must try to glean something from it.

This brings us to the question of what you should read on your e-reader and what you should read in the good old book. Apparently reading on an e-reader can prevent you from grasping the plot- a traditional publishing gimmick to leave the poor reader in doubt or an unfortunate truth proven in reading labs? Possible if you think about this link and send in your comments on this.

There is a list of recommended books at the end of How to Read a book– a comprehensive guide of what to read in Western Literature. It makes me want to be a teenager again and restart my reading journey from scratch.


I haven’t attempted the Exercises and Tests at the four levels of reading in the book just yet- I dare you to try once you read this extraordinary book. You’ll never read the same way again.