“For some of us, pretty much everything reminds us of alcohol,” said one happy fellow in the audience. He was defending Karthik Srinivasan, the guest of honour at the first Let Poetry Be session I attended at Atta Galatta on 20th June. Srinivasan’s interpretation of a picture with three birds ended with titling it “Alcohol”. Trying to explain his interpretation wasn’t going too well until the audience pitched in. This fun moment and many others shook the audience out of our Saturday evening sluggishness.
When you are attending a poetry reading session for three and a half hours, be prepared to feel sleepy. Not because I didn’t like the poems. It was the bombardment of a Saturday evening with ideas from 50 poems that overwhelmed me. My attention span was the moon on a cloudy night, revealed when the wind was strong enough.
LPB holds their sessions for their growing community on the third Saturday of every month, at Atta Galatta. The co-hosts are Amruta Dongray and Sonali Bhatia. Bhatia’s attendance on the 20th was quite surprising, as she is undergoing multiple eye surgeries, which Dongray mentioned in her welcome and wrap-up speech. Dongray is an author, and her vivid imagination was clear every time she talked about what came to her mind as she listened to some of the poems. From seeing antennae in a photograph of sprouting plants, to joking about the poetry and asking questions when no one else did, Dongray was bustling about, calling people “Darling”; definitely the most enthusiastic person there.
Bhatia has conducted workshops on poetry in schools, and has set quizzes for die-hard Potters, after reading the series more than a dozen times. In contrast to Dongray’s energetic rallying of the LPB attendees, Bhatia was a silent presence that evening.
The LPB themes vary from month to month, hosting things like workshops, some poetry Jugalbandhi and other experiments. ‘Let Poetry Be: It’s My Choice Part 1’ began quite punctually, and the room filled up as the evening progressed, until there were people crowding the entire area. Listening to the poetry and asking questions was the main purpose of the evening, but too often Dongray was that teacher encouraging students to speak up.
“The essence of the evening is the Q and A”, said Dongray after introducing Karthik Srinivasan. Srinivasan recited some of his poetry from his book Obscured Revelations, which is a collaborative work with Sajesh Jose. Jose’s photographs were projected onto a screen beside him, and created some moments of fun. There was a story Srinivasan narrated about a photograph Jose had taken, with a twist that brought out some surprised chuckles. Jose had won an award for a photograph of a boy washing in water that he had stolen, so when Jose went back to find the boy, he ran off. From the birds to other nature pictures and a few that actually involved people, Srinivasan read out his accompanying poetry.
It is not easy to focus on every poem, and every phrase you hear. Some inevitably jump out, from the poet’s mouth to your ears and they jump around your head like frogs on drugs as you try to understand. There was Srinivasan’s poem about the, “Good old college days”. The picture of some friends sitting on a rock at sunset felt so tied to being young and hanging out on a rock in the middle of nowhere, on those random road trips you end up taking. I think each of the 20 poets had some words and ideas that I couldn’t get out of my mind long after hearing them in the recitations.
There was an unscheduled poet, Mamata who shared a few poems.From poems about a friend, stories, to reading Malgudi Days, and cupcakes she concluded with one for Malala. The nine-year old finished reading her poetry to loud applause from the entire room, definitely not only for the great rhyming schemes. She was included into the LBP community with Dongray’s eliciting a promise to come back and read more at other events. She then spent the rest of the evening split between the bookshelves and listening to the poetry.
The themes of the poetry went from love, depression, life, a grandma, family, single mom-hood, an ode to carbon, a tap, abs and lots more were. The tone of the poems was also on a wide spectrum—from sad, serious and contemplative, to humourous but mindset-challenging poems like performance poet Sushil Verghese’s “A Fat Man Poet” and “Abs ki Baath” which is from what Nitish Nair called his “Irreverent humour phase”. He said he was getting many comments about his look-alikeness to Steve Jobs that evening, he looked highly thrilled. Apparently he usually is told he looks like Saurav Ganguly. This all happened in the five minutes he was allotted, since he only read one poem. Though he only read one, it covered a range of stuff from “monsoon of testosterone” to self-deprecating phrases full of pop-culture references and word-play, which all ended somehow with “Schrödinger’s cat shrivels and dies”.
The poets explored ideas from childhood to present day experiences, (like leaving your phone at home, Gasp!) in the Hindi and English poems we heard. It was difficult for me to follow the Hindi poetry, when even the English poems sometimes left me with too many questions. “Apni sapno ko bhi peetha hu”, from one of Rahul Kumar’s poems was one of the lines I actually understood and found haunting in all the Hindi poetry.
After the performances had ended and the Atta Galatta team was setting up for their next event, I got to know a few of the poets better. Trupti Arabatti was happy to tell me about LPB. I really had to tell her how much I loved her poem “Black Pearl” about carbon, and she smilingly told me about how LPB was her first platform and she has attended every session since 2014. She has read at many of the LPB meet-ups and even at Urban Solace.
Since Avinash Rebello had read out a poem about humans basically being like bacteria and announced a reluctance to title his poems, it seemed really important to ask him about his experience of LBP. It was an interesting five minutes, with the Atta Galatta people politely indicating they wanted us to move so they could set up for the next event. Rebello explained it was only the second time he’s performed at an LPB event, but he had conducted the workshop LBP: Come to Your Senses II. On reading out his poetry, he said, “I think there’s a large element of acceptance. Whether things are accepted or comprehended”. He added that hearing other people’s interpretations of your poetry is a major part of a poetry reading.
Out on the street, Gaurav B Gothi talked to me about the division between his writing and reciting poetry. “When writing, it’s about structuring the flow of thought but when you are narrating it you want to convey that same feeling”. He strongly emphasised that enjoyment is a part of both for him while some auto honked loudly at a car. From a listener’s perspective, Prakhar Goel said, “When you hear poetry, the depth of emotions is fairly clear. While reading it there’s a separation between you and the writer so you may not be able to encounter the poem the same way”.
Goel’s take on listening to poetry summed up why sitting for three and half hours and listening to about 45 poems and their writers talk about them is more fun than you might have imagined. The second part of LPB is right around the corner (25th July) , and you can experience it for yourself.
Half the room occupied by rows,
Crowded but comfortable.
Hiding in my corner,
A new unknown friend.
The changing room;
Phrases whiz around