Poetry in the Age of Facebook II: Nitoo Das

Another year. Another August. Last year, after completing my Poetrifying Exercise, I had written this. (Go read that first. Yes, GO READ. This note will not make any sense without those September 2009 ramblings.)

Now that you know everything about my realisations, assertions and obsessions of the previous year, I can go on to broadcast my realisations, assertions and obsessions of the present year. I wrote that linked note in a kind of high. Today, I am more aloof, more coldly observant. (Yeah, I know how funny that sounds.) 

Last year, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for and struggled with extreme exhaustion, sleep-deprivation and word-anxiety throughout the month. This year, I knew quite well what participating in this “assignment” would entail. In a way, this awareness made the act of writing that much easier. I was better prepared. Scared, definitely, but I was ready to deal with the fear. (MS Word kept trying to change “poetrifying” to “petrifying”. So apt!) If you read the other note carefully, you surely noticed I’d said: writing is easy. In fact, this year, it was even more painless. “Willing words to appear” never seemed so completely magical; it was just a sleight of my mind, just a taste of words on my tongue. To put it simply, it was more fun.

On the eleventh day of my Poetrifying, Facebook Notes turned into a formatting-eating beast. All my line breaks and stanza breaks were gobbled up by said beast and my poems became an unsightly mishmash of unreadable prose and weird html. Quite interestingly, just a couple of days earlier, I had made public claims (at Sarai) about the Cyborgian possibilities of online writing. I had to hastily shift my poems to a Google Document. (Talk about moving from one bad ogre to another!) This relocation signified I could no longer receive direct comments. The reader would have to make an uncomfortable move from the GoogDoc to Facebook in order to ‘like’ or comment on a poem. Free-flowing conversation, easy archiving in one fixed comment-space, discussion around individual poems: this year, such things were not to be. Discrete small talk on status updates did not seem too exciting or archivable to me. 

However, on the twenty-third day, the day I posted my poem, “Cyborg Proverbs”, something truly fascinating happened. Two readers actually saw me edit my poem in real-time. I changed words, created stanza breaks in front of their eyes, as it were. Apparently, my cursor also had a name: River Slant. This experience gave me goosebumps.  I cannot imagine what it connotes as a new metaphor for the act of writing and the act of reading. The reader becomes a wonderfully privileged, all-seeing entity whereas the poetic pedestal of the creator is compromised in very layered ways. 

Sundry observations: I wrote more “personal” poems. This is an interesting problematic in my writing. When I say “personal” poems, I actually mean poems with more intense autobiographical resonances. (I am happy I managed to write poems 3 and 4 without sliding into sentimentality. They had been on my mind for several years and I found them very difficult to write.) Of course, everything I write is also always and deeply personal. I thought I was not so preoccupied with aggressively confronting religion this year. I was only observing it from a distance. Yes, for an atheist, I am unduly fixated on various gods and various religions. To my surprise, I later noticed that I did make direct and indirect allusions to quite a few. Strange, even for me! My passion for voices and ventriloquism, objects, ekphrasis, wordplay and forms remained intact. Birds and photography appeared with more alarming promptness.

*

I felt less self-conscious about the performance aspect of the exercise. I have learnt that only a very small percentage of people read beyond the brief and trivial ephemera of the everyday life of Facebook. I think I had ten to fifteen regular readers. This is a negligible number out of the friends on my list. Some more would surely click on the link I posted as a daily status update; very few would stay to read. I knew my thirteen point five readers who stayed back would read carefully, intelligently and critically. Also, they would not judge me through the distorted lenses of various lacks, chief among them being the lack of traditional “inspiration”.

*** 

Robert, I’d promised to respond to your queries about my “ornate” and “literary wordplay”. Here’s my response. I tried to be as honest as possible. (For interested readers, Robert Bohm’s observations are in comment # 1 of this note.) 

I do it for several reasons. (a) The sheer aural quality of poetry is something I feel strongly about. (b) I react almost physically to the pure play of sounds. (c) I think many poets ignore this very important element in their writing, thereby deadening and blunting their poetic edge. (d) It is my way of engaging not only with verbal acoustics and acrobatics, but also with language (and its purity and meaning/lessness). (e) Unlike some Indian poets, English is not my first language and I bring from my own language a history of soundscapes slightly different from the styles present in English. (f) Lastly, one of my (frivolous, perhaps) reasons for this “baroque” wordplay is the definite sense that I can do with it (English) what I want. Language can become simply sounds; beautiful, affecting, yet strangely indifferent. I think someone like you–a sensitive reader and poet–would find that deeply disturbing. And, yet, you struggled to understand and “enjoy” my work. That says a lot about you as a person. Thank you for being such a close reader and also for allowing me to think this through.

 

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