PPP Ezine: Who are your favorite poets, if possible, also tell us what makes them your favorite?
SS: The Romantics. Younger ones like Shelley and Keats for questioning the hollowness of the industrial development and recovering of a Hellenic spirit. Baudelaire,Neruda and Ginsberg for being subversives; Eliot as a disrupter; Gabriela Mistral, Nicanor Parra and Jose Carlos Mariategui for humanism; Antonio Machado, Federico Garcia Lorca, Alejandra Pizarnik and Octavio Paz for their politics and guts; Shakespeare—for showing life in its richness and contradictions. Faiz for asking us to speak up; Ghalib for voicing pain; Dushyant Kumar for exposing hypocrisy; Gulzar for profundity in everyday. Endless list.
Common thread: Writing for the people, of the people; not of self or linguistic pyrotechnics that might dazzle but end up soon in a heap of dying embers and act as noxious carbon monoxide. In brief—writing as a change agent by radicalising consciousness of the recipient. These exalted poets do that only in different ways. Current writing, broadly speaking, despite its fantastic growth, is woefully lacking in this spirit and transformational ability. It does not possess this kind of capacity to mould and change. Social commitment is sorely missing from the plethora of posts in the cyberspace. Only self promotion, arranged interviews and reviews and race for awards in the Litfests run by the MNCs.
PPP Ezine: This one is a direct descendent of Matthew Arnold’s Touchstone Method: ‘They say that there are lines in a poem that make its heart. You may call them the poetry of poetry. Do you remember some such lines of yours or from some of your favorite poets that will help us understand your vision of poetry? If yes, please do give us some of those lines.
SS: ‘The time is out of joint—O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right’.
‘In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo’.
‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’
The lines that contain whole worlds within. That show the way forward. That critique. That are moral. Almost a code of conduct for living in turbulent times.
PPP Ezine: There has been a debate raging among the lovers of free verse and formal verse. Where do you stand in this debate? Why?
SS: With free verse. Let there be a free flow of words, unchecked by the ossified regulations carried forward from a time-frame at variance with ours. Less formalism and its restrictions go with the temper of the new millennium. Poetry should be more liberal and sometimes, a disrupter. Iconoclasm is essential for the domain, for the status-quo. Most of the current poetry is expressed in free verse. it releases the poet from the tyranny of canon and restricted rules imported gleefully from an earlier era by the academic infra and interests. It is more liberating and approximates daily speech—hence, more democratic, real and authentic. And proving very popular. The distance, thus, between poet and everyday life and reader is dissolved.
PPP Ezine: You have been writing for a long time. If you could tell us something about what inspired you to write poems in the first place, and then, what kept you going, it’d be inspiring for the new poets.
SS: Humanism. We have to guard this cherished principle against the assault of cynical market forces out to de-legistimise and expel it. The Unsaid has to be articulated in the verse. The invisible to be made visible. The marginalized need to be rehabilitated bang on in the center. The poor and the underdogs are my chosen province and these folks keep on motivating to write about them in my poetry and prose works. i am not the type that experiments with syntax and language structures. No, i am not Joyce nor meant to be. Perhaps others can pretend to be. Frost is my ideal. Hemingway also. Writing has to be political. Pro people. Pro change.
PPP Ezine: Give our new poets a few tips (3 or more) for composing well.
SS: Be authentic. Listen carefully. Write properly. Community, not self, crucial for a career as a serious writer. Writing per se is a reward in itself. Rest does not matter. It is a sadhna.
PPP Ezine: Rejection is a life-long friend or enemy of a poet. Please tell us how you responded/respond to your rejections in the past, and now?
SS: Rejections are good tonic for an inflated ego; a sense of unequal self-worth. The slips—these days curt lines on computer screen— teach you the wider world does not yet recognize you as a celeb or a solid writer of repute but as a practitioner of a difficult art and you have to diligently follow the path trodden by more famous of your tribe—before they got enshrined in the pantheon.
It is always humbling for one that is ready to work hard on the craft. Tolstoy wrote the massive War and Peace seven times! I am sure none so far has so far surpassed that venerable saint from Yasnaya Polyana. Re-writes turn out to be much better.
Rejections! Best teachers.
PPP Ezine: A poet has a cultivated mind. Give us some pointers to cultivate the poetic faculties/genius.
SS: I doubt it, a statement that subconsciously echoes the 1833 John Stuart Mill and others of a later age, elevating the creative mind, romantically privileging the writer as the principal source, some kind of super hero. If in doubt, better ask Baudelaire. Or Chacha [Uncle] Ghalib. Or Sarat Babu, or for that matter, Gauguin. Picasso. Van Gogh. Great creative minds are not saints. They are ordinary people with extraordinary talents. Maugham has written one entire book on it, dissecting great minds and their immortal works. It demystifies the aura of greatness and shows frailties that make the literary immortals, so much endearing and humans—and vulnerable like the toiling masses.
PPP Ezine: You have been published and read widely. Please give some tips on submission that increases the chances for selection.
SS: Read the individual submission-guides carefully. Back issues tell you a lot about the preferred in-house style. Each journal has got a distinct personality. Be respectful to the edit team sweating it out just for the sake of it, expecting nothing. The poor guys certainly deserve a thank-you note, if not an overused smiley! Pompousness can be off-putting for the edit. And be ready to be rejected some places—and then accepted elsewhere. Much like your typical dating games these days. You don’t know what might click and what might backfire. No sure formula. You have to be in the 24X&7 process to crack it individually. However, good and clean copy helps grab some busy eyeballs. Bad grammar can be a turn off. So will be a rude or impersonal tone of the submit.
Old-world courtesy always works.
A brief interview that has yieled a bumper harvest of powerful ideas and stances. The metaphor that self-centred and linguistically pyrotechnical compositions might dazzle but end up soon in a heap of dying embers and act as noxious carbon monoxide,” is simply devastating. So also the glut of “arranged interviews and reviews” and the rat “race for awards” from Litfests of vested interests has been drubbed. Sunil’s socially and politically iconoclastic tone is sharp, even as he commends that “Old-world courtesy always works.” A delectable, stimualting, or provocative interview – depending on which side you are. Kudos to PPPEzine and to Dr Sunil Sharma.
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