Poets discuss why poetry is still needed in a world seeming uninterested about it
“Poets tell the truth, even if it is through a symbolic language,” prominent Bangladeshi poet Asad Chowdhury said during a session titled “Ekhono Keno Kobita” at Dhaka Lit Fest yesterday. Moderated by Shamim Reza, speakers at the panel included Ruby Rahman, Suman Gun, Nazmun Nesa Piyari and Nikhilesh Ray.
Asad Chowdhury said that democracy is currently under attack. But poetry flourishes in this land during testing times. “The poet said ‘Bulbulitey dhan kheyeche khajna debo kishey?’ (Bulbuli birds ate all the paddy, how can we pay tax now?) How much paddy could the poor birds nibble away from the farmer’s stock? The king’s sepoys took all the paddy, and people understood that message,” the 75-year-old poet told the audience.
The Ekushey Padak and Bangla Academy Literary Award winner Asad Chowdhury said that poets always reaffirm the dignity of mankind through their words. “A poet can never accept the denigration of human dignity. And the more human societies are moving away from poetry, the more brutal it is becoming,” he said.
Chowdhury recalled that during the Pakistani period his publisher printed 1,200 copies of his poetry book. But recently a collection of his poem was printed only 300 copies.
A professor of the Department of Bangla and director of Centre for Studies in Local Languages and Culture at the University of North Bengal, Nikhilesh Ray said, “‘Why poetry’ is a good question. ‘Why not poetry’ is also a good question.” The nature of poetry is, said the academic and author, that it does not reveal everything, but leaves it to the reader to arrive at the message. “The writers of the Charyapada did not state everything outright. They knew the intended audience will understand the message. But everything said plainly, it will land them in trouble with those who have the power to stifle their voices,” said Ray. People unable to protest against oppression find solace in reading poetry that defy the oppressors, he said.
The Bangla Academy Award and Ananya Shahittya Puroshkar winning poet Ruby Rahman said that even though poetry can be construed as a vehicle for symbolic language, it essentially comes from sadness. “Grief is the mother of poetry,” she said. “If that is true then we have to ask if we will ever arrive in a time when we would not have to deal with anguish and pain. If there is sadness, there will be a need for poetry,” the poet and scholar said.
Poet and head of the department of Indian Comparative Literature at Assam University in Silchar, Suman Gun said that the impact of media like films are very direct and instantaneous, whereas poetry needs to grow and thoughts need to be invested for it to truly enter the reader’s mind. “To answer the question why we need poetry, we have to first understand the nature of poetry and what it truly is,” Gun said.