A Preface to Poetry (From Conversations with Children, 2005)

It is an inordinate task—to frame a preface to poetry. Because poetry comes faceless, untimed and unannounced. It occurs. Like the tiny foot prints left on the wet earth of a morning after a night of rain by the myna birds waking earlier than the dawn, poetry begins in fits and starts and tapers off here and there. One cannot write poetry; poetry writes one. Heidegger asked: who is a poet? He answered: one who writes poetry. And then the question came: what is poetry? The answer: that which is created by the poet. The poet and the poem are one—each given birth to by the other in an existential chain. Then how does this happen? I feel now a familiar tightening in my throat; I mistake it for simple thirst, drink amazingly large quantities of water, it refuses to let go. Then poetry is the natural choice. The words choose me, I don’t do anything. But of course afterwards there is this cutting, pruning and grafting. Each word has occurred in the deep blueness of the sky, in the dark greenness of the earth, in the brown, purple, red, orange yellow white it is all white now. Perhaps there is this golden oriole in the mango trees, or the crow in the backyard plantain, magpie robin among neems…Once or twice it is a blind boy wandering through narrow corridors of time, otherwise it is a vender with the broken leg dragging one leg after the other in an eager attempt to get somewhere. The perfume of sandalwood is in the air. Ripe mangoes Ripening plantains. Overripe jack fruits. The grass is so overwet with rain that now there are many many worlds doing the whirligig. What has happened to all familiar faces? Where is that little boy who wandered the fields with the myna bird perched on his shoulders and nibbling his ears? Where are the songs and kites? The long long summer afternoons. Everything appeared unending. So much pain and so much to laugh about. Why is there so much more of pain than pleasure? Why so much suffering, death, separation and parting? Do we receive more than we lose? More than anything it is the incomprehensibility of life. Then love—the bitter-sweetness of desire, longing. The body with its burden of sensualities, the amazement of each sense. The sheer wonder of being. There is this crystallizing around a disordered image, perhaps. Or is it the other way round? The image surfaces with a new face from the debris of some experience. The words are like serpents curling and uncurling, whisking past, sometimes too slow, slow enough to be caught on the page; otherwise dropping off like leaves from a slackened stem. The song remains stuck to the open page—poetry, we call it.  

(From Conversations with Children, 2005)

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