Poetry is…Guest Editorial – Randhir Khare, award winning Indian Poet, Writer, Playwright and Founding Contributor of Live Encounters Magazine.
“Our best poets are dead poets,” said a Bulgarian poet expansively then quickly knocked back three shots of rakia. Around us lay cherry orchards and rolling farmlands with robust tillers of the soil hauling produce away in enormous baskets. Kebabs spluttered on skewers and the air was heavy with the aroma of vegetables and flowers. Life bloomed spontaneously around us. And the spirited and well-fed poet who stood there with his fourth rakia continued to smile and pronounce that the best Bulgarian poets were dead poets, unaware of his now.
What was he trying to say? That truly great poetry is appreciated only when the poet isn’t around anymore to be a social embarrassment or a hindrance? That poetry needs time to be understood and be appreciated and that takes longer than the physical life of a poet? That all the great Bulgarian poets heroically went off to war and got themselves killed? Was he intoning another version of Goethe’s ‘life is short but art is long’ and was he ignoring Blake’s ‘the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower’?
“Poetry makes nothing happen,” wrote Auden in his poem “In Memory Of W.B.Yeats”. I’m not too sure about that! What did Mr. Auden expect poetry to do? He called it “a way of saying, a mouth”. Poetry is more than that. Poetry heals, poetry is our exultation, our praise, our expression of love, our expression of anger, grief, it helps us excavate ourselves, gives us wings, scales and tails like fish, fangs like snakes, makes us children, takes us into a hall of mirrors where we lose ourselves in otherness. Anna Akhmatova wrote to poetry, ‘fame swam like a swan through the golden mist – but you love, were always my despair.’
Anyway, as the afternoon flowed into evening, the babbling settled down and poetry took over. Eight poets shared their poems and in the emerging fugue poetry was all that mattered, speaking in tongues it became a shared experience. It mattered to the living.
Poetry will continue to be written by the brave, the genius, the stupid, the hopelessly in love, the wayfarer, those who arrive, those who are about to depart, those who want to be regarded as poets. Whatever! Poetry is a need….
I think of the Bulgarian poet with a glass of rakia in his hand, surrounded by cherry trees declaiming that the best Bulgarian poets are the dead ones and wonder where he is – with us or gone away? I don’t even remember his name.
Although that afternoon happened nearly three decades ago I still think about those words and the journeys they set me off on.
© Randhir Khare