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Recap of the session on Getting Started with Poetry- #BlogchatterWritFest 2022

Poetry makes nothing happen

Baffled reading the heading that says, ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’? Well, you are not alone if you come across this for the first time. I was confused too when I heard it for the first time, especially from a renowned poet like Sampurna Chattarji while quoting it to explain the purpose of poetry. It may sound contradicting but in actuality it is not. To get the essence of it, read ahead.

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

~WilliamWordsworth

Celebrating World Poetry Day on the 21st of March, 2022 with a conversation with the poet and translator, Sampurna Chattarji, as part of the #BlogchatterWritFest2022, turned out to be a blissful and resourceful session. The one-hour session flew in a jiffy only to make us, the poetry enthusiasts, more thirsty for the poetry conversation.

What is the purpose of poetry? Does poetry essentially mean a spontaneous overflow of emotions or does it include crafting too? What are some essential basics for becoming a better poet? Can multiple formats of poetry be included in a single poetry book? Do we follow trends when it comes to writing poetry? How much can a poet experiment with the format of poetry? If these are some questions in your mind, read along to get resourceful insights gained from a conversation with the amazing poet, translator and editor Sampurna Chattarji.

Here is a quick recap of the session with key takeaways from it. The session saw Sampurna Chattarji take up participants’ questions and answer them with insights from her personal experience as a poet, translator and editor.

Purpose of Poetry

The conversation had an interesting start with the poet answering the question what is the purpose of poetry. Chattarji indulged us in a poetic conversation by saying that it’s a perennial question and quoting, “Poetry makes nothing happen”, from the famed poem ‘In Memory of W.B.Yeats’ by W.H.Auden

Chattarji went ahead to explain beautifully on how poetry survives, transcending time and in essence becoming a way of happening. She said that words are a way of happening; dynamic and not static. The happening though can either be slow and meditative or choose to explode. Ultimately, poetry is in the now.

With reference to the poem, Sampurna Chattarji highlighted that

it’s a poet’s responsibility to be the mouth of truth but not a mouthpiece.

Poetry as a spontaneous overflow of emotions versus poetry as a craft

When asked if poetry is just about the spontaneous overflow of emotions or does it need to be crafted, pat came the reply from the poet insisting that only an overflow of emotions may just be a hot mess on paper and that there is a need for formatting and crafting.

Chattarji emphasized that both the emotions as well as the crafting be given equal importance to get captivating poetry. She went on to share the following tips generously:

Basics that a poet needs to follow to get better at the art of poetry

  1. Know the nuts and bolts of the language: the grammar, spellings, punctuation, etc.
  2. Have a deep love for the language and the craft. Devour others’ works before starting with yours.
  3. Write to rewrite. Don’t be satisfied with the first draft. Develop the ability to take criticisms and work on bettering the craft.
  4. Equip yourself to become your own editor. This comes with years of experience though.
  5. Have patience and persistence.

PRO TIP: As suggested by Sampurna Chattarji, check out and learn about different poetry formats by searching through the glossary here.

Multiple formats of poetry in one book

On the question, of multiple formats of poetry can be included in a single book, Sampurna Chattarji explained that it can be done with careful consideration. She added that the poet must be aware of the inner logic and flow behind the intertwining of multiple formats. Chattarji went on to explain how in her book “Space Gulliver” multiple forms of poetry imbibed in one book and it was absolutely helpful.

On that note, she mentioned that her favourite poetry forms are prose poetry—for its tensile & dynamic nature—and also non-sequential, non-narrative forms of poetry.

At this point, a special mention of Inger Christensen’s book Alphabet got me even more excited as it is based on the Fibonacci Sequence. At that moment, the Mathematician & the poet in me was like- ‘Aaaaah…I can just go on & on with this conversation!’. Sampurna Chattarji also mentioned writing a poem based on the prime number 37, also a star number, and her reasons and thoughts behind it. It only got interesting and I was just wishing that the conversation doesn’t end.

On a side note, one of my recently published poetry in “The Great Indian Anthology” by the Half Baked Beans has that Mathematical touch to it, titled “Number & numeral are not the same”. (winks!!)

With the constraint of time, the poet moved on to answer the next question if it was wise to go with “trends” for beginner poets. Chattarji mentioned that one should be wise enough to know that what can be trending can end up forgotten too. So, it’s better to plunge into the deep end, hone your craft first and experiment with language and forms first-hand. Clearly, her emphasis was on getting better at the craft instead of just going by the trends.

On poetry translation

Here are a few important tips that Chattarji shared when asked for advice regarding poetry translations, especially when there is a cultural difference in the languages involved:

  1. Firstly, it is highly important to understand both languages inside out.
  2. For words that are hard to translate, she urged the poets to be inventive. She added that of all the translators, poetry translators are the best.
  3. When it comes to untranslatable nuances, she suggested that one gets into the skin of the other poet, strike a conversation, gets to know the back story of the poem and then come up with a translation.
  4. In case of uncertainty when it comes to translating a poem of a dead poet, she insisted that we go with our instincts, follow our heart and trust it.
  5. Make research and dictionary your friends.
  6. Most importantly, she emphasized that we have the courage to walk away from translating a poem. She said not to destroy a poem by bad translation and it’s better to leave it alone.
  7. Create strategies, try hard and find solutions, like adding footnotes for cultural references or vernacular words.
  8. Finally yet primarily, care enough for the poem as if it is your own and do justice to it.

On pitching poetry for magazines

As Sampurna Chattarji is also a Poetry Editor, it was more than apt to know what she looks for in a poetry submission as an editor. To start with, she made a note that one should not consider submission as “pitching” as the word pitching gives a sense of selling. She said the better word would be poetry submission and mentioned that primarily she looks for a certain amount of craft in the poetry.

She added that she looks for a voice — honest, new and startling — and a willingness to work with the editor in partnership.

As a pro tip, Sampurna Chattarji suggested not to overdo the cover letter or bio and rather work harder on the poem instead. Finally, she said to keep the poem true, simple and distinct.

Suggested Reads

Towards the close of the session, when asked for poetry reading suggestions, especially for kids and beginners, Chattarji left us with the following reading list:

  1. Coney Island of the Mind: Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  2. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats: T.S. Eliot
  3. Beastly Tales from Here and There: Vikram Seth
  4. Revolting Rhymes: Roald Dahl
  5. The Fried Frog and Other Funny Freaky Foodie Feisty Poems: Sampurna Chattarji
  6. Learn from the Almond Leaf: Eunice de Souza
  7. The Penguin Book of Indian Poets edited by Jeet Thayil (for a wide variety of themes, styles, generations: out in April)
  8. Indian Love Poems selected and edited by Meena Alexander (Everyman Pocket Poets)
  9. Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray translated by Sampurna Chattarji (Puffin Classics)
  10. The Complete Poems of Winnie the Pooh: A.A. Milne

As a special recommendation for children’s poetry, she suggested Earth, our Home by Karthika Nair. For a poetry book using vernac, she suggested her book, The Bhyabachyaka and other wild poems.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/inger-christensen

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/147924.alphabet

Parting words

On a final note, Sampurna Chattarji mentioned looking up for first books of those you consider established poets now and reading more anthologies.

The session then ended with a reading of her poem “Evil Eye” in her magical voice.

Overall, it was an exciting and engaging session that I just keep ruminating upon and this blog post is one way to do so. Hope you find this useful.

I just can’t thank enough the Blogchatter Team for making such conversations with poets/authors possible through the BlogchatterWritFest. As my fellow blogger Harshita would put it here, the BlogchatterWritFest is a different level of crazy!

Apart from providing us with this wonderful session where 3 to 4 of my questions got answered, Blogchatter did go one step ahead to choose me as one of the winners of a book giveaway. I am definitely on a poetic high and I’m sure you would have definitely got to know it by now.

BlogchatterWritFest Session 4 Winners, one being me!
Happy Me!

I leave you on that note and see you soon with Intuitive Poetries in the month of April (just a few more days to go!). Stay tuned.

This post has been written as part of BlogchatterWritFest.


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