CHENNAI: Enjoy Enjaami, the universally celebrated single from the house of maajja and from the talented reserves of Dhee, Arivu and Santhosh Narayanan, has crossed over 30 million views on YouTube alone a mere two weeks since its release. Speaking about his work, especially under the Casteless Collective banner, Arivu remarked that they were essentially poems of resistance.
They just happened to be married to hip-hop music. Music has long since worked as a release for poetry be it in the film industry space, the vast history of gramiya padal, or even what we now term ‘indie’. Yet, in a world that boasts of shorter attention spans and plenty of busyness, do we find ourselves making room for Tamizh poetry in the way it’s meant to be consumed? Slowly, deliberately and by page, raising questions and creating a picture in your head?
If you ask Sukirtha Rani, the answer is a resounding no. “Time goes on as it did. It’s we who show ourselves as being busy. In such a situation, we are not willing to invest the time and energy we need for reading poetry. It’s these people who claim that they cannot understand poetry. Poetry is like a closed fit that contains thousands of mysteries and many a story. While the poet will open up two fingers to reveal what they can, it’s the reader who should complete the rest of the journey. This happening with Tamil poetry has become rare,” she suggests.
This diminished interest affects the entire process of taking the work from the writer to the reader, offers Uma Shakti. “I can recollect a time when regional magazines were more open to publishing poetry but that has come down in recent times. Nobody wants to invest money and buy a poetry book. Like literature, when you take poetry, some are niche and some are slightly commercial. Film lyricists come under the latter and there’s a different fan-following for this. But, hardcore poetry, comprising metaphors and wordplay, continues to have only a handful of readers,” she surmises.
Seeking new spaces
While English language writers and poets have found vent for their creativity in newer mediums, besides the tried and tested print path, regional poetry hasn’t had the same level of space or takers it seems. “In May 2015, when the city’s first spoken word-poetry platform Mocking Birds curated an open mic event, I was their first Tamil poet participant. I performed a few verses, not knowing what spoken word was. Eventually, I began reinventing my poetry. From using wordplay to write my poems, I began tapping on what I felt and expressing it through words.
That’s not become my style. While these open mics aren’t the final destination for poets, they certainly act as a platform to hone our skills. With Tamil poetry taking up only 10-15 per cent of the traditional performance space, video and digital poetry performances are a boon for regional poets. I have had the privilege to learn and work on video editing since 2011. So, I put that to use by creating visual imagery and weaving them with my words. It enabled me to ride on the new-age Tamil cultural wave on digital platforms. It was a learning curve. Using this, I was able to explore and move forward. Video/digital poetry is in the process of moving from an art form for the privileged to a more democratic art form,” elaborates Ishvar Krishnan, Tamil poet and spoken word artiste. It is because of these alternative platforms that Mano Bharathi counters the claim that poetry has fewer takers.
“While the fact that poetry has a niche readership has remained a constant through the years, the medium of consumption is through Kindle, e-books and audio books. If you think the readership for regional language books has gone down then you are mistaken. It has only gotten serious.” The digital medium has been instrumental in bridging the gap between a reader and a writer. Social media has also paved the way for interaction and exchange of ideas among poets of many generations. It has encouraged youngsters and veterans to learn from each other and share ideas, he offers. “It’s no more a necessity to take your poetry to the masses only through the printed format.
There are many platforms such as YourStory and Kavishala that give opportunities to anybody who wants to write. This way, relevant and sensitive topics reach a larger target audience instantly. We have active recital sessions and book discussions happening on social media and as physical events. Communities such as Kavi Pom and Vasagar Salai are doing a good job. In fact, more than English, the regional language poetry scene is quite happening where like-minded people consistently gather and discuss poetry. Shruthi TV Literature has also been doing a good job by featuring interviews and talks of regional language poets, authors and publishers,” he points out.
Parvathy is of the opinion that we should focus on welcoming different styles of poetry and the number of things it might want to discuss. “Young poets prefer keeping the language simple and direct to the readers. They are exploring different social media platforms to pen down their thoughts on relevant and bold topics to reach larger audiences. We need to respect and recognise the creative process instead of discouraging them by comparing them with the erstwhile poets. If anything, the lockdown has only produced more writers who finally got to explore their creative side through arts and poetry. I request publishers to explore alternate avenues and encourage budding authors,” she says.
For Sukirtha Rani, representation is equally important. As in the Sangam era, representation of female poets continues to be overlooked, she says, pointing out that it’s the reason men hold on to the stand that we have not seen the likes of Avvaiyar or Andal. “Whether their work speaks of politics or not, we have to be welcoming of it. For women writing in itself is political,” she concludes.