“Poets are shameless with their experience: they exploit them,” says Friedrich Nietzsche in his ‘Beyond Good and Evil’.

He himself was a poet but his philosophy overshadowed his poetry. Strangely, poets in our part of the world are far more shameless. They are the pits not for exploiting their experiences as most of them have none but for what they tend to do with their published stuff. Firstly, there are no buyers of poetry these days. Short messages, signs and marks are what constitutes the hallmark of contemporary world of communication in an age of globalisation. Poets usually try to use language with gay abandon because that has been the practice with the poets of the past ages, now a part of poetic tradition.

Contemporary reader is neither interested in the creative ambiguities of language nor in its decorative frills the poets are so fond of. If there are no takers for poetry, it won’t find publishers in the market. Publishing is an organised commercial activity driven by profit like any other commercial enterprise.

Poets are also shameless because while singing of trees and woods they insist to be printed on what felling of them yields; pulp that creates paper. In order to be published poets have to cough out money for publishers to bring out their books of verses as publishing cost. Publishers seem ruthless in exploiting the vanity of the poets who are made to pay not only the publishing cost but are discreetly coerced to also pay the so-called service charges over and above it for being kind enough to manage the printing of manuscripts. Interestingly, after the book is published, the bulk remains with the publishers dumped somewhere in their warehouses. Books rarely sell and if and when they do, the poet is never notified or paid anything by way of proceeds. The poet takes a few dozen copies. Then starts the real show for all to see and have a good chuckle. He breaks the news on social media platforms about his new publication and gets congratulatory messages from friends and well-wishers and also from rivals. The number of messages depends on his social networking and public relations. It can a flood or a trickle. Usually it’s a trickle to his dismay. Now he goes around in search of people, he thinks, are worthy enough to be gifted his book. Free of charge and of course signed. A sort of mini ceremony, a bit farcical, of presenting the publication is arranged with what may look mock seriousness. The poet and the recipient of the gift stand up holding the books in their hands with the main title to the camera and snaps are taken for the record but more so for publicity and shameless self-promotion.

The poet’s fawning body language makes a spectacle worth-watching when he is in the presence of an influential person literary or otherwise with an obsequious smile on his face.

Traditionally a poet is supposed to have great personal vanity and high self-image, a product of historical conditions whereby he acted bard and sage talking of things less known or forgotten and predicting things which would happen. In old times the poet not only preserved history and mythology but also inspired tribal wars. With the magical power of his words he would incite the people to fight or make them sue for peace. Just one example from our recent past will suffice to the drive the point home.

In the late 19th and early 20th century a balladeer (Dholaie) named Noori Kamoke was a formidable poet. He was as much loved as he was feared. He was loved by the ordinary mortals and was feared by rural aristocrats. People relished his ballads (Dholas) because he sang of their experience and glorified the freedom fighters who resisted the colonial oppression and sacrificed their lives. Aristocrats felt scared of him for the reason that if in an open gathering at a festival he recited verses which reminded them of their tribal feuds, vendettas and unavenged killings, things might go haywire. He could remind in his recital of cowardice of someone who ran away from the fight or could not protect his family members or clansmen from their enemies. Such a taunt would call for action to restore the honour of the grieved individual, family or clan resulting in a fresh feud with heavy cost. So the influential well before his recital would lavish precious gifts on him to keep him away from stoking the fire of personal enmities and tribal conflicts. But with the passage of time things have come to such a pass that poets have to dig deep in their pockets to get published or at times to be invited to poetry recitals. What a shame dear poets!

Why expressing in poetry is so irresistible for some? Why it’s so especially for the bad poets? Bad poetry historically far outweighs the good one. The margin is so huge that you can count good poets on the fingers of one hand in any language in a particular age while the total number would be countless. Fed up with bad poetry Shakespeare in his Julius Caesar shows a mob that feels like killing a poet for his bad verses.

Poets’ feeling of self-importance arises out of sense of ego rather false ego. They are lulled by the realisation that they are more imaginative than their fellow beings and thus they have something prophetic to say. The feeling is reinforced by their subconscious which is where a lot of poetic stuff springs from. Bad poets are especially vulnerable to such a malaise that has muddled the situation to the extent that it has become difficult to tell a poet from a versifier. One can say that in our age literary landscape suffers from a disease called poetry. Poets compose bad poetry and worse is that they display it with aplomb. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2022

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