Beginning 22 June, Firstpost embarks on a 10 week-long journey of poetry. Featuring poets who write in English and Hindi, this project is meant to both showcase their art as well as their individual creative processes. These poets write for the page and for the stage, and the themes of their works range from love and friendships to how power-hungry human society can be. Their verses, expressed in the 'spoken word' format, are brought to life by visuals and supported by music.
Presenting — The Firstpost Poetry Project.
This is the first poet featured in this series.
Aashna Iyer | 26
"Poetry for me is making people feel things. I don't mean feelings like the Grecian Urn, or My Last Duchess (although horror is a great feeling, and Robert Browning is awesome), I mean making people break their veneer of poise and actually feel things."
Aashna Iyer is drawn to poetry because of the stories that can be told through it, whether it is The Owl and The Pussycat or Shakespeare. She says it is the reason why she enjoys spoken word as a form so much. "I never liked rants and bombast. It's always gotta be a great story," she asserts.
Her journey in poetry began in school, when she was signed up for poetry recitation contests by her teachers. She was irked by the emphasis laid on memorising and emoting, and soon left it at that. She went on to pursue a degree in literature, and found war poetry and works by contemporary Indian writers fascinating. "But it also convinced me that the best had come and gone, and there was nothing good to come from art any more. So I remained a closet writer," she says. At this time in life, Aashna was a writer "to a certain extent", but she was not keen on showing it to the world.
Her foray into spoken word began with the decision to randomly attend an event during her post-graduate course, and she hasn't stopped since. She speaks fondly of stage gigs, a widely-shared video where she recites a poem about menstruation, and how she has told stories of the love affair between chai and Parle G. "I love the stage, I love to know someone connected with my madness. It's the best."
She believes that performing a poem in front of an audience gives it a different dimension. "Nobody but the poet can convey it the way they meant it to be read. There's so much more that connects to a performance... Your voice, expressions, body, outfit, everything!"
Aashna says that a good poem touches the listener/reader in a manner such that it creates an impression in their own mind. "The best poetry in my opinion, can make you take the core of my poem and build a memory of your own, connected to only you. That's great poetry."
Labels - Are for Bottles
Jam jars, shampoo and perfumes
Food and things that you’d consume
Acids, bases, bottled water
When “What it’s called” really matters
Shoes and clothes hung on the rack
Jewellery or a brand-new bag
Things you’d buy from shops and such
When costing matters so very much
When it’s unsuitable for heart patients or infants
When there’s some allergy-causing contents
When calorie content must be declared
When the expiry date must be shared
When people want to stake a claim on things
Or when they want to give their name to things
When Chanel must stand out from raste ka maal
That’s when you do labels ka istamaal
You… Do you think that you’re phenyl?
Or if unrefridgerated, you’d expire in a while?
Are you suitable for only ages three and up?
Would you cause allergic reactions and stuff?
Are you dangerous if consumed without prescription?
Can you be mistaken for household poisons?
Do you need to be differentiated from others on a shelf?
Can you be mistaken for someone else?
Probably not a likely scene
Not one in the future, nor ever has been
So can someone explain just why, to me
Social labels are applied so liberally?
What do you care what language I speak?
Or what I wear or do or what I eat?
Why does there seem this inane need
To slot everyone into boxes, nice and neat?
Worse yet is the fact that there IS no fact
On the basis of which these boxes are packed
There’s no personality test that proves membership
To these groups to which we are relegated
That chick in the bar you saw with a smoke
She’s bad news, she’s trouble and beyond hope
Unless ‘those kinds of girls’ are your type
Then go for it, she’s sure to respond with a smile
And this guy with the hair that falls into his eyes
If he’s arrested for possession, that’d be no surprise
Because men who look like that are definitely high
And will be burdens on us all by and by
While the demure 20-something with shirt tucked in well
He’s a stand-up citizen, can’t you just tell?
He’s a hard worker and has all the right virtues
He’s the one to spend your life with, the one you should choose.
Are you kidding me? Is this how society works?
Is this all that we are? Habits and words?
Why would you judge someone by how they appear
Without knowing their truth, under the ‘visible’ layers?
Every person’s a unique mix of genes
Even identical twins are different beings
No one rule of thumb can govern us all
We’re unique, no one group into which we fall.
Labels are for bottles and bags and things
Labels are not for human beings
We’re not covered notebooks, only different names
We’re people, all different, though we may look the same
To catch your eye
And spark to life
To hop from star to star,
To spend a minute each
Going over patterns
Traced by someone else
Patterns of meaning,
Attributed to anyone else
But to you
Or to me
And reading stories
Into long-dead fires
Ignoring the spark
Stars are welcome
Star-crossed, best ignored
And 7 minutes.
Of heavenly nothingness
And shooting star moments
With the alpha-star
Into dim-lit, wine-rich
Of stars long gone
Read about the second poet in this series.