Manohar Shetty on why writing poems is a way to say you're not alone in this world

'Full Disclosure', an anthology of old and new poems, is published by Speaking Tiger.

 |  4-minute read |   10-11-2017
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Poems are born out of restlessness and an uneasy spirit. Their provenance can be both remotely obscure and immediate: a memory barely remembered or the loss of a loved one. It is an exercise in stabilising your heart and mind and is a defence mechanism against the cruelty and ravages of the world.

For me, these exercises often end up as projections into the animal world, of domestic creatures such as ants, spiders and frogs, a wounded pigeon, cats with their "exclamatory pupils", of deer transfixed by safari jeep headlights, whales and civet cats hunted for their ambergris and scent glands, "leashed lions bought to heel/By circus whips".

While poems offer no permanent remedy, they can act as a restorative to a low spirit. They are an act of empathy.

I"ve lent my voice to a mannequin, a scarecrow, a preening model, to the statue of a revolutionary, to a rumour, to torpor and indolence, to the barren moon pining away for the "ultramarine" earth, to rotting teeth and even to a mothball and the last remaining asset that an heiress clings on to – a pearl, a genuine one which has worried itself into its intrinsic beauty (Anxiety becomes me.)

Poets are thus "naturalborn schizoids".

The exaggerated simile has been part of my beat: the keys of the defunct typewriter are "the seats of an/Empty stadium"; the Buddha"s hair is "a mound of peppercorns"; the bit of a key is a "city skyline", grieving eyes well up like "a sudden shower on a deserted street"; oilslicks on the beach are "smudged mascara"; condoms are "spent balloons", the stork a "leggy model"; crocodiles have "buckteeth", their hide "like chainmail"; aubergines wear "Greek helmets"; and devotees in a mosque are "collective italics".

mshetty_111017115458.jpgManohar Shetty's new anthology, Full Disclosure, has been published by Speaking Tiger.

The use of such metaphors is my way of bringing things closer home as is a line like "nuns adopt plain habits" with the play on the word "habits".

A Collected affords you the opportunity to look back on your old poems. It is a strange, otherworldly experience, as if they were written by someone else. I look at them with a sense of detachment and wonder who actually wrote them. I don't know if other poets feel the same way, but they are akin to entities with lives of their own and open to varying interpretations.

In a sense, they don't belong to you. You are only their accidental creator, a kind of a medium. This may sound lofty and almost spiritual, but it isn't, as those untidy drafts in old diaries and notebooks testify to. But you hope they will find a place in the world and offer some solace or insight to a passing stranger.

There's nothing new in poetry as therapy or panacea, however transient. Even if a single reader finds an echoing celebratory or commiserating chord, the poem will have done its job. It has told you that you are not alone in this world.

It's often been assumed that it is Goa, where I've lived for over three decades, that has been an inspirational presence. That is not so. Poems perforce must come from within even as they connect to an external reality. I've written only a dozen or so poems that relate directly to Goa, but I value them, especially the love poems and the poems dedicated to my two young daughters who were both born here.

I've never understood the idea of authors demanding approval merely because of the hard work they've put in and the sheer size of a book. That's for the reader to judge as he's paying for the work.

A book must speak for itself and I'm hoping some of you will lend your ears to the stepchild that is poetry. Right now, after Full Disclosure, I've come to a standstill. No new poems on the horizon, not a single seagull even after several months adrift. On a more positive note, I'm beginning to feel restless and uneasy.

Also read: A poet remembers: Drinking in Goa and why alcohol is a false god


Manohar Shetty Manohar Shetty

Goa-based poet; Sahitya Akademi fellow. He has edited Ferry Crossing: Short Stories from Goa (Penguin India) and Goa Travels: Being the Accounts of Travellers to Goa from the 16th to the 20th Century (Rupa). He has lived in Goa since 1985.

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