Of late, I have been very interested in writing poetry. As I try to put down each sliver of memory, fatten it up with sensory and factual details, weave metaphors and insight into the scene, I can only think of one thing: why did I ever decide to write poetry? It’s such a backbreaking business. Not literally, of course, only metaphorically. I am never satisfied with the end result. I always think my poems are works in progress, which will never see the light of day. Actually that is good in a way. And as broke poets do, I search for poetry writing contests, better if they have no registration fee.
One of these contests led me to the Weekly Haiku Contest at the Guardian, which unfortunately they have closed. However, in one their trademark tongue-in-cheek style, they have provided a link to a Genuine Haiku Generator! We have moved into such an automated society that haikus can be generated. Not even the Guardian can vouch for the quality though.
My connection with haikus goes back to college where I learned to write them in creative writing class. I liked like structure, the way you needed to force yourself to say something within an extremely finite number of words. I, also, had a great teacher. I can’t say I learned much from her other than the structure and types of poems. The other aspects like feeling and dislocation of words, which I learned outside the class. I know for sure that no one in my class ever liked my haikus. I distinctly remember my teacher reading my haiku (called “Egyptian Slave”) and someone else’s poem (I don’t remember the name but I distinction remember it was either about butterflies or had butterflies in it). Then, she asked the class of 20 or so students to vote. Guess whose got the most votes? Not mine. But I was strangely convinced that mine was good and the only reason they didn’t vote for me was because they didn’t understand it.
Though my teacher was so good, I can’t say she was quite successful with like 80% of the class. But I could see she expected something of me. And haikus were easy to write. Once I got carried away and wrote like 14 of them over night mainly because I couldn’t sleep. The next morning, I showed them to her: she picked and chose the ones she thought best to be included in my creative writing dissertation.
Now, my creative writing teacher loved to talk. An hour or two of lecture would like a prelude to what she really had to say. So, most of us diligent students tuned out after the first half hour. I usually looked interested and doodled. But one day, I thought, well, I was in poetry class, I could write poetry. So, even if I was caught, I wouldn’t be punished because I was writing poetry in creative writing class after all. Right after I finished the poem, I looked up and saw her looking at me. I stiffened and tried to be cool. It looked like she had caught me. She continued with whatever she was talking about, twirled a chalk piece in her hand, and casually asked me to show what I was writing. I was stunned. How did she know that I was writing anything at all? I replied, it’s just something I put together right now. She was adamant and asked me to show my poem, which I did. All I got was a smile. I think she was smiling because she found a student who actually wrote poetry in class!
I never know what she thought of my writing. I could detect a faint aroma of approval but nothing that was strong enough. She never once told me that I could write at all. Or well. I left college after my master’s only to be back in a month teaching for like two weeks on contract. The taught students, my age or older, post-colonial literature, general English, and creative writing. It was then that she met a close friend of mine, asked about me, and said, “What? Why is she teaching? She should be writing!” That was the closest I ever got to know that I could write. At least, well enough to merit that remark. That memory still makes me smile.
Coming back to poetry generation, the way the world is going, I always imagine a future without poetry. It will be a sad, dry, mechanical maybe even a demented – more than usual – one. A sort of a post-apocalyptic world where people are so wrapped in everyday survival that they forget what they live for. A word, which prices the survival of the loudest unthinking machine than the one which thinks. A world where sensitive individuals will have to hide in order to survive till the world order changes. I do wish our world loses many things but poetry in its struggle for survival. When the world order does change, I wish poets and philosophers rule this world rather than economists.