‘Not everyone who drinks is a poet. Some of us drink because we’re not poets.
It has always been a matter of wonderment to me why, in the overall realm of things, poetry has invariably been placed a notch above prose in the pantheon of English Literature. I grant you that this is more a perception than a reality, but that is the general feeling one takes away. For instance, excellence in certain forms of sport is often likened to poetry. ‘Roger Federer’s backhand crosscourt is sheer poetry,’ you will hear television commentators gush. Ditto Diego Maradona’s ‘Goal of the Century’ against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City. It was a close-run thing between Maradona’s magical goal and the Uruguayan television commentator, Victor Hugo Morales who went poetically berserk describing it. Similar poetic praise is reserved for a Virat Kohli cover drive, though we have not been seeing much of that in recent times. The late American poet and music critic Amiri Baraka (previously known as LeRoi Jones) once said, ‘Poetry is music, and nothing but music. Words with musical emphasis.’ He was a jazz enthusiast and an avowed admirer of the legendary Miles Davis, whose trumpet playing has often scaled poetic heights.
We all know that Shakespeare wrote many beautiful sonnets, but he is justly celebrated for the sheer magnitude and magnificence of his immense body of plays. We quote the Bard, day in and day out, consciously or otherwise, whenever we speak or write in English. And yet, to a lay person of the present generation, his plays read more like poetry than prose. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why it is more enjoyable to watch an enactment on stage of Hamlet, than to actually sit down and read the entire play, as you would a novel. After all, wasn’t it Shakespeare himself who said, ‘The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact.’? And just to drive home the point, the great man adds, ‘The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.’ This is perhaps one reason why heightened sensations in any field of activity draw comparisons with poetry, whereas things more mundane tend to be described as prosaic. That’s just my impression and I am open to be taken issue with. Gently please, don’t land on me like the proverbial ton of bricks.
If I were to reel off a few names of great poets at random, say, Donne, Dante, Blake, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Eliot, there would be a tendency on the part of people to roll their eyes heavenwards and heave a deep sigh as if to say, ‘those men knew what life and beyond was all about.’ Whereas if I were to invoke the names of a few great novelists, say, Dickens, Hemingway, Kafka, Conan Doyle, Austen, Brontë (all three of them), Waugh (the Elder), Wodehouse, V.S. Naipaul, the general reaction would be one of awe and respect. The crucial difference lies in the ability of poets to evoke a kind of ethereal ecstasy while the novelists, though hugely revered, tend to be viewed in more down to earth terms. This is not to put one literary form over the other. As I said earlier, it is just the way I perceive them. Truth to tell, I have never been much of a one for poetry. The poetry fanatics from English Literature classes would wax eloquent about Free Verse, Blank Verse, Sonnet, Acrostic, Villanelle, Limerick, Ode, Elegy, Haiku (you can never keep the Japanese out), to say nothing of sub-categories like Quatrain, Cinquain, Couplet, Sestet and several more. In more modern times, we have seen the emergence of Rhyming Slang, which the British hoi polloi is pretty adept at. Once the conversation gets into things like Iambic Pentameter, I scoot for the hills. Who knows, it is entirely possible that when John Keats felt a thirst coming on, he made a beeline for the nearest pub and declared to the bewildered bartender,‘O for a beaker full of the warm South / Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene / With beaded bubbles winking at the brim.’Whereas a simple, ‘a large tankard of your finest ale please, bartender, and here’s a shilling for your trouble,’ would have more than met the case.
I felt, therefore, that I should set the record straight and turn my hand to a bit of poetry, if this be the first and last time I attempt it. I have tried my luck with limericks earlier, and according to most experts, I came a cropper. This time, I shall curb my ambition and go for a straightforward four-liner verse format. Quatrain, is it? Let’s just call it poetic license. So, here goes nothing. With apologies to all poets, past and present.
Let’s hear it for poetry Though I am partial to prose If I can’t quite rhyme it Don’t think me gross. In India, politics is all If Modi can’t crack it We are up the spout And Rahul just can’t hack it. Then there’s the doughty Mamata Forever crying hoarse With an eye on the PM’s chair Is it with her, the Force? Yogi quietly watches the fun Some say he is next in line If Modi drops a hint Watch the saffron sadhu shine. What of the beleaguered Sonia? On all sides being corralled Can she find a way out Of the mess that is the Herald? All the while Tharoor speaks Nineteen to the dozen No one understands a word but In social media he is buzzin’. In Bengal the TMC frets Over ill-gotten moolah Arpita cries, ‘Not me, not me’ While Partho da swings on his jhula! Over in bustling Mumbai The ED closes in on Raut ‘I’ll see you in hell’ says our Sanjay But for him it augurs a rout! Arnab brings the roof down On the Vadra-Gandhi clan Rajdeep does much the same Only with far more elan. The Opposition was up in arms ‘Let’s talk GST, let’s talk inflation.’ The Treasury turned the other cheek And said, ‘Why not corruption?’ China threatened to blow up Pelosi’s plane Xi tried hard, the visit to stall But Biden held firm The lady sure has some gall. Meanwhile, the US took out al Zawahiri Who didn’t know what hit his shack Biden celebrated from his secure White House And told all Americans, ‘Watch your back.’ In old Blighty, the race is on To see who will let the cat out Nightly at Number 10 Is Rishi still in with a shout? Russia’s shelling of Ukraine is unceasing No one knows when this will end Putin is pulling out all the stops But Zelensky will not bend. They say cricket and politics don’t mix Ha, ha, who are they kidding? Ask ex-skip Virat Kohli Whose career is up for bidding. The legend MSD they left alone With him they had no beef Captain Cool was too clever From whose book they should take a leaf. India is playing in the Caribbean Is anybody following? Does anybody care? Only the BCCI seems to be wallowing. What about the Commonwealth Games? Some say we shouldn’t be there Shuttling and wrestling for a few medals Ah well, let’s dream to dare. Shed a tear for poor, old Djoko They said ‘no vax, no Slam’ ‘No way, Jose,’ said the champ ‘I am Novak(s), you can all scram!’ Covid, please make up your mind Are you coming or going? Monkeypox has its foot in the door It's our minds you're blowing. And that’s where I’ll end this try Tilting at poetic windmills I am no dab hand at it Only prose will pay my bills. I told myself at the outset that poetry is not my bag, but I am not very adept at taking good advice. Not even my own. But what the hell, one has to try something out in order to plumb the depths, as it were. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Not that I have gained much from this exercise, but I have to say it was fun. I shall now proceed to inflict these rhymes on an unsuspecting world, and hope they will be a wee bit more charitable than I have been on myself. A few luminaries from the Dead Poets’ Society could well be turning in their graves on reading my overwrought rhymes. Serve them right, I say, for making me go through all that stuff in school about Skylarks, Country Churchyards, Highland Lasses, Mists, Mellow Fruitfulness and so on. They were all compressed in very small print in a fat, red book called Golden Treasury of Longer Poems. By the time we got to the 17th verse, we couldn’t wait for the end-of-class bell to ring. The only time the boys got excited was during Coleridge’s Christabel, when the eponymous heroine watches her well-endowed, dodgy pal Geraldine disrobe herself, and our English Master quickly turned the page to avoid having to read, at least for us impressionable teenagers, some graphic anatomical descriptions. Not content with this, Coleridge got right up our noses and proceeded to write his longest poem ever, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Poor Coleridge. Poor English Master. Poor students. All said and done, I shall stick steadfastly to prose, barring the odd poetic quote punctuated here and there, to show there’s no ill feeling. And finally, if someone can explain to me why (and how) ‘the mirror crack’d from side to side’ as Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott cried, ‘The curse is come upon me,’I should be much obliged.