‘Poetry should retain its subtlety’

Published July 7, 2024
Poets pose for a group photo after the Mushaira, held at the annual gathering of Pakistani physicians in Washington.—Dawn
Poets pose for a group photo after the Mushaira, held at the annual gathering of Pakistani physicians in Washington.—Dawn

WASHINGTON: “Poetry is more than a mere recounting of events; it is deeply personal and profound, but sometimes it is influenced by the surrounding happenings,” said prominent Pakistani poet Sarmad Sehbai.

He doesn’t consider narrative poetry a fine example of the art, yet many poets at APPNA’s Mushaira recited poems commenting on the current political developments in Pakistan.

The poetry recital, which began on Thursday evening, continued until 3am on Friday, giving poets from Pakistan, India, and the United States ample time to share their work with the audience.

Many in the audience were in a political mood, chanting slogans even during ghazals that were only distantly political. However, poets like Sarmad, Abbas Tabish, Shahid Hassan, Humair Rahman, and Shakil Jazib managed to persuade the crowd to appreciate pure, unadulterated poetry.

Sarmad’s classical ghazal couplet: Shehre kasrat mein ajab ek rozan-i-khalwat khula; Usnay ju dekha mujhay ik lamha bhar sub se alag and Abbas Tabish’s famous couplet “Only once I told my mother, I fear the dark and lonely nights; She never closed her eyes to sleep before I did, to ease my fright” received a standing ovation from the audience, as always.

The audience also loved Shakil Jazib’s subtle references to Karbala and the struggles of a thoughtful being with a conscience.

Others, like Manzar Bhopali, Arif Imam, Shahida Hassan, Wakil Ansar, and Mona Shahab, also upheld this subtlety.

Sarwat Zehra’s “Being a woman is seen as a crime, But being expressive doubles the time” earned a very warm applause from the audience, particularly women.

“This is poetry,” said Dr Irfan Ali, who was conducting the mushaira. “A poet is neither a journalist nor a historian. He first internalises a situation, letting it sink in before expressing it through his verses.”

Yet, senior, and some local physician poets, continued to recite poems that were overtly political, and they managed to excite the audience. Every time such a poem was recited, the chant of “Prisoner Number 804” (a reference to Imran Khan) echoed across the hall.

However, humorists like Haider Hasnain Jaleesi and Khalid Irfan had more freedom to criticise the government, the opposition, the establishment, and even the host.

Commenting on the habit of demanding halal meat with alcohol, Khalid Irfan, a popular New York poet who now lives in Karachi, recited: “I accept your invitation, regardless of the beer; But ensure the fried chicken is halal and clear” and earned a big laughter from the audience.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2024

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