Full Disclosure: Manohar Shetty on why successful poems have a life of their own

Years, rather decades after learning your ABCs and the animal or fruit that each letter stood for, reading them through poetry can at times feel a bit odd. Though there is a disarming innocence about the process, a re-alignment at the base of the brain tells you time and history need not only be pipes and mirrors, they can be waves too. Not every journey backward is carried by the feet of nostalgia, sometimes the wings of what is around you, by presence or absence can be enough — i.e. the natural elements. Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure (2017) that brings together selected poems from each of his seven previous collections is a peep into the mind of the observer; so free of angst and impatience are his notes that they probably write themselves.

Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure (2017) brings together selected poems from each of his seven previous collections

Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure (2017) brings together selected poems from each of his seven previous collections

Shetty’s poetry has always been accessible, free from the burden of allusive details, of conceit and of vocabulary that is overbearing. He comes across as the kind of writer who writes without the need to prove a point. An aesthetic (or approach, if you like) that is usually attributed to Shetty making Goa his home in 1985 – four years after his first collection A Guarded Space (Newground) was published. But that is not the case. “For the first 15 years or so I barely wrote any poetry. Goa can be such a beguiling place and poetry needs some inner tensions that seek an outlet, a release and restoration of yourself. There was a 16-year gap between my third and fourth books. I can’t quite explain it, but poets often go through these fallow spells. People often tell me that Goa must be an inspiring place to write poetry, but it isn’t, at least not for the kind of poetry I write which has more to do with my own anxieties and relating them to a wider world,” he says.

Before Shetty moved to Goa, his formative years as a young poet were spent in the enviable company of the Bombay poets in an age where small presses like Clearing House, Praxis and Newground were around to champion fresh talent. “Bombay (then) was the publishing epicentre for poetry with the small presses, Newground, Clearing House and Xal Praxis.  While Newground published my first book back in 1985, Adil of Xal Praxis published my second book, Borrowed Time, in 1988. It was the good old letter press days — no pagemaker or other instant software. Kamala Das would also host poetry sessions in a flat in Churchgate,” he says. Shetty’s writing shows the influence of both Eunice De Souza and Nissim Ezzekiel, poets he met regularly for the time he was in Mumbai.

In one of his early poems Mirror, he writes like a young poet would:

At last they arrived.

Scraped and cleaned the bin.

But the filth remained.

He slept with it

Hardened and locked

Under his fingernails.

Even though some of Shetty’s early poems give the sense of a man on the move, probing more than observing at the same time, in his later years, a steadiness, a unhurried method towards thought seems to have taken shape. But of all his subjects, though they do occasionally rise out of the soil of life, loss, emotion and structures whether social or physical, it is the earthiness that stands out. Animals, insects, plants, water Shetty gives purpose and depth to each but without at any point turning into an activist.

Shetty finds beauty in strange places, which is uniquely challenging because not only is it difficult to weave poetry around them, pretty soon, one is bound to run out of things to write. “I can’t pinpoint a reason, though I don’t think it’s an improbable marriage. After all, we’re all animals, in some form or the other. I use animals as parallels to human lives, as metaphors and sounding boards.  I’ve reached a stage where I’ve more or less run out of animals,” Shetty says. None of Shetty’s poems feel like entrapment, in that they are asking you for remembrance or a chunk of your memory. His craft is neither impenetrable, nor flat in style.

For 16 years, since 1994, when Shetty’s Domestic Creatures:Poems came out, there was nothing. Compare that to the four collections he has published since 2012, and it makes you wonder if his engine has found new life or has simply aged well after a period of stasis. “Poets will write poems regardless of publishing avenues. It’s just that I didn’t allow a single image or line to slip by whatever the time of day or night. I remained on high alert.  I have so many old diaries filled with old drafts and odd lines. But I think successful poems lead an independent existence. Once you’ve made one, they don’t belong to you. They are sentient creatures and have lives of their own, offering up different interpretations, though now after the ‘New and Collected’, I’m facing a deafening silence. I feel like an abandoned excavation.  It’s as if a chapter has closed with no sign of a new one. Arvind [ Krishn Mehrotra] has a poem called ‘Where Will the Next One Come From’.  I’m wondering too,” he says.

But it isn’t time for alarm bells yet. Neither should it be seen as the mortified withdrawal of a poet who may have written himself into a block, is too shy to toot his own horn or writes by abandoning the kind of things that need abandoning – vanity. Writers like Shetty are rare. They write their windows into poems rather than writing about them. He writes in Bored:

When I’m bored, utterly bored,

I recall shy women returning

From toilets in movie halls,

And casual pillion hands

On the waists of motorcyclists—

Close, close to the crotch.

And that demure hostess

Wiping her nose and wiping

A sly fingernail on the

Underside of an armrest.

 *

No, I can’t think

Honourable, memorable thoughts

When I’m bored, utterly bored;

My mind opens a drain

For white mice to ferret

Around in sewage.

One would hope if anything ails his late productive years, it would be the present-day state of Goa, beset by mining and intrusion. Something that will eventually serve Shetty the anxieties he needs to keep going. “Polluting industries and tourism make for strange bedfellows. Local Goans feel the impact very strongly and as a quasi-Goan, I share their distress and indignation. But what can one do when even during the monsoon the place is flooded with tourists? It’s a free country,” he says.

He may be 'quasi-Goan', but Manohar Shetty is a poet through and through.


Updated Date: Dec 03, 2017 10:53 AM

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