Source : The Hindu
Themes of isolation, nostalgia and hope are popular in this year’s National Poetry Writing Month challenges
// I sleep with
all the lights in my room
turned on because
the presence of things
to hold onto
makes you feel
less lonely //
This entry, featured by Poems India on Day 2 of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo), drew its co-founder Shivam Tomar’s attention, for how feelings of isolation were interwoven in its lines. Loneliness, he has discovered, is a recurring theme in this year’s NaPoWriMo.
April, being National Poetry Month, sees poetry communities and platforms hosting the NaPoWriMo challenge — of writing a poem a day. To get beginners started on this, hosting platforms put out prompts for each day.
It’s a tradition that began in 2003 in the US, as a blog post, but is just as relevant this year, especially given the pandemic, believes Rohini Kejriwal, founder of Alipore Post. “Poetry helps people open up and find their voice,” says Rohini.
A poetry enthusiast herself, Rohini started hosting NaPoWriMo last year, after COVID-19 hit. She observes the influence the past year has had on not just budding poets, but also the prompts she has been putting out.
“I wanted to provoke people to write about the words that have stayed with us in our lexicon, ones that we have encountered over and over: ‘protest’, ‘vaccine’, ‘elegy’, ‘migration’, and so on,” says Rohini.
“While last year, I leaned more towards warmer prompts, that could help people free themselves from the situation they were in, this year, I think more seriousness has come through in the prompts. It reflects where I am, right now,” she adds.
The pandemic, she believes has influenced people’s writing as they are spending more time reading and introspecting. Experiences of living without human contact or losing loved ones, or even losing two of the five human senses set off visceral reactions.
Prompts are generally kept vague, so as to evoke different ideas in different people, based on their lived experiences. But with the pandemic putting a majority of the world through similar circumstances, the reactions to prompts too find common themes.
“That feeling of being stuck is universal. For example, for the prompt ‘Earth’, in any other circumstance, you would expect lots of ‘Nature’ poems, but this year, there is imagery of the changes we need to be making to make it a better place. I also feel that last year, the collective fear and uncertainty was reflecting, whereas this year, a little more activism is coming through in people’s words,” says Rohini.
Same prompt, different take
One of the 350 people who have responded to Rohini’s prompts, Bahrain-based Kaav Ranj has been participating in NaPoWriMo for three years. “I see things differently now because of how long we have been in this situation,” says the 21-year-old spoken word poet.
She points to her two different poems she wrote, this year and last year, using the same prompt: ‘Ode to My Throat Chakra’. Where last year, it was about the ‘rising up’ of a voice, speaking of ‘connection’ and ‘listening’, this year the take was entirely different — one that reflected how drained she felt. “I wrote about my throat being parched because of the constant need to talk. After the pandemic, content creators were in a way forced to engage more online, as there was a pressure to constantly put things out there.”
Fellow poet Vama Shah points out that it is natural that what we write will be influenced by our surroundings. Pandemic, she says, has made her write more about closeness, the need for human interactions and the importance of the little things in life. “Last year, it was all about hope, for an end to the pandemic, but this year it is mostly about how we have shaped out lives around it,” she says.
Nine days into April, Poem India had received over 1,500 submissions. Shivam too, notices a shift in the way people have been responding.
“Our first prompt was ‘Every moment is a memory of a previous one’. This prompt attracted a lot of submissions, where people talked about living in shells, anxious about their future,” says Shivam.
In fact, he lists mental health, along with sexual abuse at home, and parenting, as the top themes in a pandemic world. “Even with happier prompts, people are getting nostalgic, and reflecting on their lives pre-pandemic,” he adds.
Reading poetry, says Shivam, helps us see that we are not alone. Rohini too, has been reading a lot of pandemic poetry. “One of the interesting pandemic projects I came across this year are the ‘Dear Vaccine’ poems,” she says.
Dear Vaccine is a global community that invites people to promote COVID-19 vaccination through poetry. A collaboration between the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, and The University of Arizona Poetry Center, the project invites people to write using any of these four prompts: ‘Dear Vaccine’, ‘We liked’, ‘It’s the…’ or ‘Vaccine please’.
Ask Rohini, what she would like to write and she says, “Dear Vaccine, please work your miracle on us all.”