Poetry in the Age of Facebook: Nitoo Das

(दूसरों के बिना कोई किताब कैसे हो सकती है? यूँ तो दूसरे कई तरह से इस किताब में पहले भी थे. अब विधिवत, साक्षात. नीटू दास अंग्रेजी में कविताएँ लिखती हैं, दिल्ली विश्विद्यालय में पढ़ाती हैं, प्रतिलिपि की असमिया सलाहकार हैं और खूब सक्रिय रहने वाली लेखक हैं. वे सायबर स्पेस में कविता को लेकर कई प्रयोग करती रही हैं. यह नोट दो किश्तों में है. पेश है पहला भाग)

While I did this, Makhmalbaf’s Cyclist played on loop in my mind. I kept thinking of Nasim’s despair and the need for money that drove him to take on the challenge of cycling for seven days at a stretch. Of course, no comparison can be made between the tragic circumstances of Nasim’s continuous circular cycling and my attempt at writing poetry for a month. However, images from the film ran on and on inside me, almost assailed me and forced me to think about the sheer physicality of the act of writing. I also thought about what happens to the objects that are used in the process of such challenges.

What happens to them after the act? How did the feat of cycling for seven days affect Nasim’s cycle? What did I do to the four thousand words I chose for this deed? What about Facebook itself? Can the assumptions that go into the construction of Facebook deal with such an act? Can the apparently marginal world of poetry infiltrate Facebook? Or will poetry have to resort to ancient vaudeville tactics in order to make itself seen?

This note is a chaotic and quickly jotted down thing about what I experienced during the past thirty days. Many ideas kept roaming all around me, practically haunting me and, I suspected, I had to give them some paper (ok, screen) space before they went ballistic.

One of my first realisations was: writing is easy. I know how strange and arrogant that sounds, but it is something I became conscious of quite early on. There was no need to wait for inspiration, just the right words. One could actually will the words to appear, become visible. Another realisation: no discomfort was bad enough. I wrote through migraines, fever, period cramps, hangovers. I wrote when I was angry, sad, fatigued beyond belief. These are physical and emotional conditions during which I had never written before. I jokingly called it a test of endurance. To a few more people, I said I was reminded of primordial punishment, self-flagellation, masochism of a certain type. I was pure flesh in the act of writing.

On the one hand, I went through days in a daze of ideas and words–crowded, crowding words–hardly knowing what I was doing, hardly sleeping. On the other hand, I felt quiveringly alive. So awake and alive and high, it felt positively debauched and obscene.

I also thought of the past month as a month of performance. I was the performer, the poetry-crunching machine (as Kim so eloquently put it), the dancing monkey. I am sure I made purists cringe. Poetry, after all, can happen only with the aid of heavenly intervention, divine inspiration. The words will sing/show their celestial sources. True? I do not think so.

This was also performance at another level. I was on stage, even though my body was not. My words and my voices were on the screen. I was acting, hamming, falling, failing, tripping over my words and unknown eyes were watching me. I thought of the performativity of poetry in silence and the loudness of the words on the screen. I thought of how virtual strangers who had never seen me, never heard me speak would visualise me through my poetry. I wondered about my script. Did I have one? What precisely was I performing?

I think very often about annotative links and some earlier research had also incorporated my ideas about them. The act of writing in a virtual space like Facebook can only be initiated in the moment of the link. The hypertext seduces the reader towards the separate blue words on the Facebook Note. It is the link, purified and sanitised, embedded within the beauty of html, which constructs meaning. It is through an unobtrusive, footnote-less blue bond between the title (which secretes the image, story, article, wiki-entry) and what it poeticises that signification is engendered.

What are the strategies of reading and writing in a space like Facebook? Can such actions be taken ‘seriously’? Will solemn and severe poets scoff at me for ‘inferiorising’ poetry? New performative poetic practices of this kind may actually turn the poet into a warily watched object. The reader becomes a spectator, sometimes a demanding and questioning one. The poet, in such a situation, plays roles inside the architectural space of her profile. She is River Slant, the ordinary Facebook User–playful, link-making, photo-posting–on her Wall. She quickly changes her clothes (something with sequins, I hope) and turns into River Slant, The Poet, in her Notes. She has to know how to manipulate her identities. She has to know how to stage-manage the fictions of geographical space and time.

Finally, it is the thirty poems that will perform themselves on the Facebook Note, on the iridescent screens of the spectators/readers. Even the readers who just lurked, smiled, sniggered, scowled, stopped half-way and clicked their way into another window, were a part of the entirety of performance. Even indifference is participation.

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