On World Poetry Day (21 March), as I was preparing to read a poem out loud to be recorded, so that it could be posted on some of the most used social media platforms, I was reminded of the time when my friend and I were holidaying in a far-away destination — an indescribably idyllic location where colours, sounds and scents evolved numerous atmospheric portraits for our eyes to feast on, ears to tune into and noses to inhale its sweet scents. Everywhere I ran my eyes I was overwhelmed by the limitless and variety of numinous experiences its landscape offered. Yet, the two of us tech-addicted girls chose to curl up and pull out our mobile telephones to go scrolling up and down the endless pages of the many social media apps, gaping wide-eyed at images posted by friends, acquaintances and strangers of their holiday photographs, which paled in comparison to the very charming spot we were at. Yes, that is the command these devices have over us and fortunately or unfortunately some of us know that, too. The most desired introductions, rendezvous, audience, celestial events, destinations, moments will pass us by even as we remain swallowed whole by our many devices, which also eventually, in many cases, end up shaping our depression.
In the darkest of moments in my life, time and again, I have dipped into the life-giving companions that poems are and have received from them love, warmth, courage, encouragement, inspiration, strength, tenderness, erudition and everything I have needed to press on. But do social media posts inspire similar responses in me as poems do? Quite the contrary! Even as I scroll down these posts I am overcome with a sense of guilt — at times, for reasons unknown to me or for procrastinating or for escaping into the world of posts instead of taking on the challenge, before me, by the horns or for disrespecting my time and others’ time or for not appreciating the sweet and simple joys of life and thus goes on and on the list.
As technology becomes ubiquitous and an integral component of our lives, abandoning it altogether is certainly not the answer, and to make matters worse, striking a balance can prove to be extremely tough and tricky. But on the road to striking that balance could there be a start within the bounds of possibility? How about choosing to read one poem a week? No? How about one a fortnight? Still, no? One a month? Well, it is down to us, individuals, to negotiate how often one should read a poem, should one wish to build this culture in them. What will win: screen time or poetry?
Now, if we were to begin reading poems, especially, those of us who think it is difficult and is something not for everyone then let’s get down to the basics. First, let us embark on the road to realising and acknowledging that poetry is for everyone. Second, where should one begin? For the new entrants willing to give this a shot and for those who are adept, too, and wish to return to poetry after a long gap, I suggest children’s poems. This will make the experience a fun practice and help reconnect with the child in us. So, ready, get set, go!
How about Nikki Grimes’ poem New Math to start with?
Up till now, the math of my life has been pretty simple: friends plus family plus sports. What more could I ask for, right? But lately, my outside has been changing and my inside keeps telling me more is on the way. Trouble is, I'm not sure I'm ready.
We have all passed through this stage once — childhood. It wasn’t one of those years of life we could skip whether we liked it or not. While for some of us childhood may have been the merriest and most cherished of times, it well may have been rather dull, depressive and/or traumatic for some of us. Whichever it may have been, poetry could be that constant companion to us, who, no matter what, will never leave our side. Our experiences whether sorrowful or joyous, poetry says it best; nothing would express it as eloquently and profoundly as poetry does. Reading and rereading poems is a rewarding experience; it is pleasure, at times, therapeutic and reflective, too, eliciting beauty, love, magic and what not!
Written by one of my personal favourite poets, Edward Lear, The Table and The Chair is one such humour poem that can be enjoyed both by adults and children.
I Said the Table to the Chair, 'You can hardly be aware, 'How I suffer from the heat, 'And from chilblains on my feet! 'If we took a little walk, 'We might have a little talk! 'Pray let us take the air!' Said the Table to the Chair. II Said the Chair unto the Table, 'Now you know we are not able! 'How foolishly you talk, 'When you know we cannot walk!' Said the Table, with a sigh, 'It can do no harm to try, 'I've as many legs as you, 'Why can't we walk on two?' III So they both went slowly down, And walked about the town With a cheerful bumpy sound, As they toddled round and round. And everybody cried, As they hastened to their side, 'See! the Table and the Chair 'Have come out to take the air!' IV But in going down an alley, To a castle in a valley, They completely lost their way, And wandered all the day, Till, to see them safely back, They paid a Ducky-quack, And a Beetle, and a Mouse, Who took them to their house. V Then they whispered to each other, 'O delightful little brother! 'What a lovely walk we've taken! 'Let us dine on Beans and Bacon!' So the Ducky, and the leetle Browny-Mousy and the Beetle Dined, and danced upon their heads Till they toddled to their beds.
After all that exhausting walk and dance the table and the chair and the rest of the gang could very well sleep. But some of us are kept awake by unremitting thoughts, and however much exhausted we may be, we could be struggling to fall asleep. But when poetry becomes a part of our mental make-up, eventually, blissful sleep would take us over, too.
Although poetry has numerous mental and physical health benefits, the World Poetry Day is declared by UNESCO to celebrate and sustain linguistic diversity. We have between 6000 and 7000 known living languages, today, in the world and sound is central to every language, and more sophisticatedly so in the case of poetry. Rhymes, alliteration, assonance, dissonance, metre etc are aspects of sound in poetry. And different languages have different syntactic structures and different sound groups. Encouraging multilinguism in classrooms and at homes is critical in increasing learning abilities and cognitive development in children. Poetry, especially, emphasises on sound. Therefore, reading and listening is crucial not only to improved learning and developmental outcomes in children, but it also inspires immeasurable imagination in children. So, the more and different sets of syntactic structures our children are exposed to the better it is, for their cognitive development, and at improvising ideas and imagination.
And on that note, I’ll take your leave with Carl Sandburg’s poem Languages
THERE are no handles upon a language Whereby men take hold of it And mark it with signs for its remembrance. It is a river, this language, Once in a thousand years Breaking a new course Changing its way to the ocean. It is mountain effluvia Moving to valleys And from nation to nation Crossing borders and mixing. Languages die like rivers. Words wrapped round your tongue today And broken to shape of thought Between your teeth and lips speaking Now and today Shall be faded hieroglyphics Ten thousand years from now. Sing—and singing—remember Your song dies and changes And is not here to-morrow Any more than the wind Blowing ten thousand years ago.
We cannot afford to let our languages and rivers die. If the muse as well as the creation die, what will poets (creators) do? Let languages and rivers live forever and ever while we take earnest actions to refrain from linguistic shaming, linguistic racism, linguistic stereotyping, ethnic accent bullying and so on, and instead cultivate a culture of linguistic diversity and encourage language learning more and more.