‘Tis (Not) The Season To Be Jolly – A #TBT Poetry Experience
‘What will be your verse?’ asked Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. ‘What will be your worst?’ is the question I asked when I sat down to write my last poem.
One fine morning, two Americans – Thomas Roy and Ruth Roy – decided to take this question too seriously and dubbed August 18 to be National Bad Poetry Day. This fine morning, I decided to dub them idiots. Where were these severely serious Americans on November 8, 2016 to dub it National Bad Idea Day? If we had to celebrate the bad work created by good poets, surely some drunk readings at house parties should have sufficed? An entire day dedicated to celebrating published poems that should have ideally been discarded drafts is a whole universe of unnecessary. But then so are bath salts, Aadhaar cards and most of my feelings.
But there’s something to be said about dedicating time to examine some of our worst work. Anyone riding horses of creative pursuits will attest to the anxiety of youth and endeavours gone sour. The world scrutinises writers and poets with microscopic criticism and many crack under the gaze. The tiresome suicide rates of writers and poets who couldn’t trump their best work could continuously refill my glass of scotch for a week. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed, in her TED Talk, voices her concern about the pressure writers face to create their best work all the time.
I’ve often looked at an abysmal draft and wondered what it means to my sense of self that it will never see the light of day. While there’s a lot to be said and revered in respecting a stage or the published page, there’s also something to be asked about the overt seriousness we associate with our work, and by extension, to our own expectations of creativity. My adventures at taking out some bad work for a stroll remind me to not take myself too seriously. If I mute the voice in my head that belongs to everyone else, I could look at some of my worst poems as material for stand-up, as opposed to material to quietly cry in the bathroom to.
I would have Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Tennyson for company. They too have dared public growls and published unappealing, arrhythmic and nonsensical poems on their bad days.
a more rewarding
thing to do with
my time will
For who else will turn an imagined white chocolate diaspora into a best-selling book of poetry? For every take-down piece on Rupi Kaur, an Instapoet is born. On days like National Bad Poetry Day, I say, let us all flock to the nearest confessionals with Rupi Kaur poems and absolve her of her sins. We shall then take a collective look at the mirror to reflect on our empty pockets in silence.
So perhaps there is merit in being less Gordon Ramsay on poems that do not appeal to our taste or are genuine dents in literature, as readers. If The Room can be celebrated as the best worst movie, why can’t we take baby steps at saying Twilight with tinier cringes?
So, what does it say about our culture as readers, that we never ask poets and writers about their worst work and their mental relationship with it? What does it further say about our tendency to bully mediocre work off the internet, instead of providing private feedback?
At times, I’ve wanted nothing more than to ask some slam poets to mercifully vacate the stage at poetry events in Mumbai. It appears obvious to me that they turn up to dictate their feelings to a mic that conveniently comes with a profile picture. But there are also some needles in the haystack who do come to test their worst work on an unmerciful audience (that includes me). To these poets, I want to tip my hat and to their worst poem, I want to dip my pen.
Oscar Wilde once said, ‘All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.’ If Wilde had lived through 2018 Instagram and Twitter, he would have possibly written his bad poems in the font of Times Ironic. And he, like all of us bad poets and even worse people, should be allowed one day in the year to.
Artwork courtesy of Smarth Bhagwat